Types and Construction of Aircraft Brakes (Part One)

in Aircraft Landing Gear Systems

Very early aircraft have no brake system to slow and stop the aircraft while it is on the ground. Instead, they rely on slow speeds, soft airfield surfaces, and the friction developed by the tail skid to reduce speed during ground operation. Brake systems designed for aircraft became common after World War I as the speed and complexity of aircraft increased and the use of smooth, paved runway surfaces proliferated. All modern aircraft are equipped with brakes. Their proper functioning is relied upon for safe operation of the aircraft on the ground. The brakes slow the aircraft and stop it in a reasonable amount of time. They hold the aircraft stationary during engine run-up and, in many cases, steer the aircraft during taxi. On most aircraft, each of the main wheels is equipped with a brake unit. The nose wheel or tail wheel does not have a brake.

In the typical brake system, mechanical and/or hydraulic linkages to the rudder pedals allow the pilot to control the brakes. Pushing on the top of the right rudder pedal activates the brake on the right main wheel(s) and pushing on the top of the left rudder pedal operates the brake on the left main wheel(s). The basic operation of brakes involves converting the kinetic energy of motion into heat energy through the creation of friction. A great amount of heat is developed and forces on the brake system components are demanding. Proper adjustment, inspection, and maintenance of the brakes is essential for effective operation.


Types and Construction of Aircraft Brakes

Modern aircraft typically use disc brakes. The disc rotates with the turning wheel assembly while a stationary caliper resists the rotation by causing friction against the disc when the brakes are applied. The size, weight, and landing speed of the aircraft influence the design and complexity of the disc brake system. Single, dual, and multiple disc brakes are common types of brakes. Segmented rotor brakes are used on large aircraft. Expander tube brakes are found on older large aircraft. The use of carbon discs is increasing in the modern aviation fleet.

Single Disc Brakes

Small, light aircraft typically achieve effective braking using a single disc keyed or bolted to each wheel. As the wheel turns, so does the disc. Braking is accomplished by applying friction to both sides of the disc from a non-rotating caliper bolted to the landing gear axle flange. Pistons in the caliper housing under hydraulic pressure force wearable brake pads or linings against the disc when the brakes are applied. Hydraulic master cylinders connected to the rudder pedals supply the pressure when the upper halves of the rudder pedals are pressed.

Floating Disc Brakes

A floating disk brake is illustrated in Figure 13-78. A more detailed, exploded view of this type of brake is shown in Figure 13-79. The caliper straddles the disc. It has three cylinders bored through the housing, but on other brakes this number may vary. Each cylinder accepts an actuating piston assembly comprised mainly of a piston, a return spring, and an automatic adjusting pin. Each brake assembly has six brake linings or pucks. Three are located on the ends of the pistons, which are in the outboard side of the caliper. They are designed to move in and out with the pistons and apply pressure to the outboard side of the disc. Three more linings are located opposite of these pucks on the inboard side of the caliper. These linings are stationary.

Figure 13-78. A single disc brake is a floating-disc, fixed caliper brake.

Figure 13-78. A single disc brake is a floating-disc, fixed caliper brake.

The brake disc is keyed to the wheel. It is free to move laterally in the key slots. This is known as a floating disk. When the brakes are applied, the pistons move out from the outboard cylinders and their pucks contact the disc. The disc slides slightly in the key slots until the inboard stationary pucks also contact the disc. The result is a fairly even amount of friction applied to each side of the disc and thus, the rotating motion is slowed.

Figure 13-79. An exploded view of a single-disc brake assembly found on a light aircraft.

Figure 13-79. An exploded view of a single-disc brake assembly found on a light aircraft. [click image to enlarge]

When brake pressure is released, the return spring in each piston assembly forces the piston back away from the disc. The spring provides a preset clearance between each puck and the disc. The self adjusting feature of the brake maintains the same clearance, regardless of the amount of wear on the brake pucks. The adjusting pin on the back of each piston moves with the piston through a frictional pin grip. When brake pressure is relieved, the force of the return spring is sufficient to move the piston back away from the brake disc, but not enough to move the adjusting pin held by the friction of the pin grip. The piston stops when it contacts the head of the adjusting pin. Thus, regardless of the amount of wear, the same travel of the piston is required to apply the brake. The stem of the pin protruding through the cylinder head serves as a wear indicator. The manufacturer’s maintenance information states the minimum length of the pin that needs to be protruding for the brakes to be considered airworthy. [Figure 13-80]

Figure 13-80. A cross-sectional view of a Goodyear single-disc brake caliper illustrates the adjusting pin assembly that doubles as a wear indicator.

Figure 13-80. A cross-sectional view of a Goodyear single-disc brake caliper illustrates the adjusting pin assembly that doubles as a wear indicator. [click image to enlarge]

The brake caliper has the necessary passages machined into it to facilitate hydraulic fluid movement and the application of pressure when the brakes are utilized. The caliper housing also contains a bleed port used by the technician to remove unwanted air from the system. Brake bleeding, as it is known, should be done in accordance with the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions.

Figure 13-81. A Cleveland brake on a light aircraft is a fixed-disc brake. It allows the brake caliper to move laterally on anchor bolts to deliver even pressure to each side of the brake disc.

Figure 13-81. A Cleveland brake on a light aircraft is a fixed-disc brake. It allows the brake caliper to move laterally on anchor bolts to deliver even pressure to each side of the brake disc. [click image to enlarge]

Fixed-Disc Brakes

Even pressure must be applied to both sides of the brake disc to generate the required friction and obtain consistent wear properties from the brake linings. The floating disc accomplishes this as described above. It can also be accomplished by bolting the disc rigidly to the wheel and allowing the brake caliper and linings to float laterally when pressure is applied. This is the design of a common fixed-disc brake used on light aircraft. The brake is manufactured by the Cleveland Brake Company and is shown in Figure 13-81. An exploded detail view of the same type of brake is shown in Figure 13-82.

Figure 13-82. An exploded view of a dual-piston Cleveland brake assembly.

Figure 13-82. An exploded view of a dual-piston Cleveland brake assembly. [click image to enlarge]

The fixed-disk, floating-caliper design allows the brake caliper and linings to adjust position in relationship to the disc. Linings are riveted to the pressure plate and backplate. Two anchor bolts that pass through the pressure plate are secured to the cylinder assembly. The other ends of the bolts are free to slide in and out of bushings in the torque plate, which is bolted to the axle flange. The cylinder assembly is bolted to the backplate to secure the assembly around the disc. When pressure is applied, the caliper and linings center on the disc via the sliding action of the anchor bolts in the torque plate bushings. This provides equal pressure to both sides of the disc to slow its rotation.

A unique feature of the Cleveland brake is that the linings can be replaced without removing the wheel. Unbolting the cylinder assembly from the backplate allows the anchor bolts to slide out of the torque plate bushings. The entire caliper assembly is then free and provides access to all of the components.

Maintenance requirements on all single disc brake systems are similar to those on brake systems of any type. Regular inspection for any damage and for wear on the linings and discs is required. Replacement of parts worn beyond limits is always followed by an operational check. The check is performed while taxiing the aircraft. The braking action for each main wheel should be equal with equal application of pedal pressure. Pedals should be firm, not soft or spongy, when applied. When pedal pressure is released, the brakes should release without any evidence of drag.