The Time Before Landing: The Evolution of Aircraft Brake Systems

In this day and age, we believe that every vehicle should come with a functioning braking system in order to ensure safety. However, from the creation of the first plane to the advancements made during WWI, the early plane had no need for a complex braking system. It flew at such slow speeds that it only relied on the friction of the wheels touching the ground in order to come to a gradual stop. But as war created the need for faster and larger planes, a functioning brake system became necessary. Contemporary aircraft now typically have a dedicated brake unit for each of its main wheels in order for it to come to a stop in a timely manner.

All brake systems are based on the same principles of converting the kinetic energy and the inertia of the plane in order to decrease the velocity of the plane allowing it to come to a gradual stop. According to the laws of physics, energy cannot be created nor destroyed. So, the kinetic energy that drives the momentum of the plane forward is turned into thermal energy through the process of friction.

The most common mechanism for braking, which is also commonly used in automobiles, is the disc brake. The basic principles of a disc brake are that there is a caliper with disc brakes that are attached to a section of the wheel. When pressure is put on the brakes, the brake pads clamp down onto the spinning wheel, creating friction, and slowing down the rotation of the wheel. Within the classification of disc brakes, there are many other specialized brakes that have been altered to fit the needs of each specific aircraft. The larger the vessel the more complex the braking system has to be in order to achieve the same results. For example, single disc brakes are the simplest of the disc brakes and are typically used on lighter aircraft.

Another common brake is the floating disc brake. Also known as a sliding disc brake, it is one where the wheel is fixed in position with a caliper that can slide to initiate the braking mechanism. When the brakes are applied, the pressure inside the brake housing increases and the pressure forces a piston to move inward toward the center of the braking device and the wheel. The piston presses against the brake pads forcing them into contact with the wheel. The brake pads pressing down on the wheel causes the friction needed to come to a gradual stop. If any excess pressure is applied to the caliper and the brake housing, which are “floating” and do not come in contact with the wheel, they are then forced distally from the wheel. Thus, there is a “cap” on how hard you can break.  Because any excess pressure on the braking system causes the caliper to move backward, the brakes are applied at a constant rate to bring the vessel to a stop more smoothly.

Because of their very nature, brakes wear down very quickly. So, it’s important to remember regular maintenance and repair. At Buy Aviation Parts, owned and operated by ASAP Semiconductor, our expert staff can help you find all the brake supplies you need, new or obsolete. As a premier supplier of parts for the aerospace, civil aviation, and defense industries, we’re always available and ready to help you find all the parts and equipment you need, 24/7x365. For a quick and competitive quote, email us at or call us at +1-269-264-4495.


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