Actuators in Aircraft: How Are They Used?


Actuators in aircraft help create a safe ride for everybody on board.

Actuators in aircraft play a vital role for flight and control; often their operation ensures the safety of the aircraft and every passenger on board. You may not have thought about it much, but if you step onto a plane, you are putting your trust in a linear actuator. Actuators are used in landing gear, flaps, and, in the military, weapons systems.

Landing Gear

In the past, airplanes have been fitted with hydraulic actuators. Airline companies are beginning to fit airplanes with electric actuators, because of better technology and more reliability. These heavy-duty linear actuators are manufactured to stand up to high pressure, peaking sometimes above 5,000psi. Because they are very close to the ground at high speeds, they must be built incredibly strong so they are not damaged by debris that is kicked up by wheels.

In addition to extending and retracting, these actuators can pitch and lock. Because the weight of an aircraft makes a big difference in its ability to fly effectively, they are made from lightweight, reliable materials.

Aircraft Flaps

These linear actuators for planes, also known as ‘flap actuators,’ are located on each wing. They are used to maintain efficient flight at low air speeds. A flap actuator is mounted on the aircraft wing with a screw that rotates. When the screw turns, it activates the flap, moving it up and down accordingly.

Large aircraft, such as commercial aircraft, need to maintain air speeds during landing, which the wings are not designed to support. As the aircraft slows down, the wings can no longer create enough lift to keep the aircraft in the air. To counter this, retractable flap actuators are placed on the outside edges of the wing to change the surface area for low speeds.

Weapons Systems

In the heat of battle, fighter jets need a reliable method of opening bay doors that hold weapons. If the doors do not open efficiently, they stand losing their life. Fighter pilots rely on electric and hydraulic actuators to open the bay doors of fighter jets. Because the systems must be reliable at all times, they are technologically advanced, equipped with sensors and stop modules for safe use.

The role of a linear actuator is not just industrial. People rely on them every hour of every day. If there is a plane in the air, whether commercial or military, you can bet they are putting their trust in an actuator system.

In the video below, an Atlas airplane lands safely in extremely dangerous landing conditions, thanks, in part, to linear actuators.

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