True shock absorption occurs when the shock energy of landing impact is converted into heat energy, as in a shock strut landing gear. This is the most common method of landing shock dissipation in aviation. It is used on aircraft of all sizes. Shock struts are self-contained hydraulic units that support an aircraft while on the ground and protect the structure during landing. They must be inspected and serviced regularly to ensure proper operation.
There are many different designs of shock struts, but most operate in a similar manner. The following discussion is general in nature. For information on the construction, operation, and servicing of a specific aircraft shock, consult the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions.
A typical pneumatic/hydraulic shock strut uses compressed air or nitrogen combined with hydraulic fluid to absorb and dissipate shock loads. It is sometimes referred to as an air/oil or oleo strut. A shock strut is constructed of two telescoping cylinders or tubes that are closed on the external ends. The upper cylinder is fixed to the aircraft and does not move. The lower cylinder is called the piston and is free to slide in and out of the upper cylinder. Two chambers are formed. The lower chamber is always filled with hydraulic fluid and the upper chamber is filled with compressed air or nitrogen. An orifice located between the two cylinders provides a passage for the fluid from the bottom chamber to enter the top cylinder chamber when the strut is compressed. [Figure 13-16]Most shock struts employ a metering pin similar to that shown in Figure 13-16 for controlling the rate of fluid flow from the lower chamber into the upper chamber. During the compression stroke, the rate of fluid flow is not constant. It is automatically controlled by the taper of the metering pin in the orifice. When a narrow portion of the pin is in the orifice, more fluid can pass to the upper chamber. As the diameter of the portion of the metering pin in the orifice increases, less fluid passes. Pressure build-up caused by strut compression and the hydraulic fluid being forced through the metered orifice causes heat. This heat is converted impact energy. It is dissipated through the structure of the strut.
On some types of shock struts, a metering tube is used. The operational concept is the same as that in shock struts with metering pins, except the holes in the metering tube control the flow of fluid from the bottom chamber to the top chamber during compression. [Figure 13-17]
Upon lift off or rebound from compression, the shock strut tends to extend rapidly. This could result in a sharp impact at the end of the stroke and damage to the strut. It is typical for shock struts to be equipped with a damping or snubbing device to prevent this. A recoil valve on the piston or a recoil tube restricts the flow of fluid during the extension stroke, which slows the motion and prevents damaging impact forces.
Most shock struts are equipped with an axle as part of the lower cylinder to provide installation of the aircraft wheels. Shock struts without an integral axle have provisions on the end of the lower cylinder for installation of the axle assembly. Suitable connections are provided on all shock strut upper cylinders to attach the strut to the airframe. [Figure 13-18]
The upper cylinder of a shock strut typically contains a valve fitting assembly. It is located at or near the top of the cylinder. The valve provides a means of filling the strut with hydraulic fluid and inflating it with air or nitrogen as specified by the manufacturer. A packing gland is employed to seal the sliding joint between the upper and lower telescoping cylinders. It is installed in the open end of the outer cylinder. A packing gland wiper ring is also installed in a groove in the lower bearing or gland nut on most shock struts. It is designed to keep the sliding surface of the piston from carrying dirt, mud, ice, and snow into the packing gland and upper cylinder. Regular cleaning of the exposed portion of the strut piston helps the wiper do its job and decreases the possibility of damage to the packing gland, which could cause the strut to a leak.
To keep the piston and wheels aligned, most shock struts are equipped with torque links or torque arms. One end of the links is attached to the fixed upper cylinder. The other end is attached to the lower cylinder (piston) so it cannot rotate. This keeps the wheels aligned. The links also retain the piston in the end of the upper cylinder when the strut is extended, such as after takeoff. [Figure 13-19]
Nose gear shock struts are provided with a locating cam assembly to keep the gear aligned. A cam protrusion is attached to the lower cylinder, and a mating lower cam recess is attached to the upper cylinder. These cams line up the wheel and axle assembly in the straight-ahead position when the shock strut is fully extended. This allows the nose wheel to enter the wheel well when the nose gear is retracted and prevents structural damage to the aircraft. It also aligns the wheels with the longitudinal axis of the aircraft prior to landing when the strut is fully extended. [Figure 13-20] Many nose gear shock struts also have attachments for the installation of an external shimmy damper. [Figure 13-21]
Nose gear struts are often equipped with a locking or disconnect pin to enable quick turning of the aircraft while towing or positioning the aircraft when on the ramp or in a hangar. Disengagement of this pin allows the wheel fork spindle on some aircraft to rotate 360°, thus enabling the aircraft to be turned in a tight radius. At no time should the nose wheel of any aircraft be rotated beyond limit lines marked on the airframe.
Nose and main gear shock struts on many aircraft are also equipped with jacking points and towing lugs. Jacks should always be placed under the prescribed points. When towing lugs are provided, the towing bar should be attached only to these lugs. [Figure 13-22]
Shock struts contain an instruction plate that gives directions for filling the strut with fluid and for inflating the strut. The instruction plate is usually attached near filler inlet and air valve assembly. It specifies the correct type of hydraulic fluid to use in the strut and the pressure to which the strut should be inflated. It is of utmost importance to become familiar with these instructions prior to filling a shock strut with hydraulic fluid or inflating it with air or nitrogen.