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The Uses of Linear Actuators in Aircraft

An actuator is a type of transducer, or a device used to convert one type of energy into another. This energy can come in the form of an electric current, hydraulic pressure, or pneumatic pressure. An example of an actuator that transforms energy from electricity or fuel in the energy of circular motion is a motor. Adversely, a linear actuator converts the energy of rotary motion into linear motion. A piezoelectric actuator is an example of one type of linear actuator.

These devices come in a variety of sizes, ranging from small micro or mini actuators, to very large, heavy-duty actuators. Because actuators are available in so many types, sizes, and configurations, they are suitable for use in a broad range of applications. One such application is in aircraft, where linear actuators play a role in many components. In this blog, we will discuss the many ways linear actuators are used in aircraft.

The first place linear actuators are used on aircraft is on airplane flaps, where they control automation. Hinges are used to mount the flaps on the trailing edge of fixed wing aircraft, where they provide three functions: reduce the stall speed, increase the angle of descent, and reduce the pitch angle of the aircraft. The reduced pitch angle is a significant help during landing, where it improves the pilot’s view of the runway over the nose of the aircraft.

Linear actuators are also used in landing gear, where a multitude of actuators are critical to the landing gear’s proper function. For one, the door to the space that contains the landing gear must be opened and closed upon extension and retraction of the landing gear. This opening and closing is done by linear actuators. Once open, the actual act of lowering and raising the landing gear itself is also carried out by actuators.

Upon landing, the first thing the pilot does is to engage reverse thrust, to provide the required force to decelerate the aircraft. In reverse thrust, the force resulting from the aircraft’s exhaust is directed forward against the direction of travel. Linear actuators are also used here, to help reverse the direction of the force. Some types of propeller-driven aircraft also use linear actuators to reverse thrust during flight. This allows fast deceleration, rapid speed changes, and can help mitigate the buildup of speed occurring from steep dives.

In remote controlled model aircraft, mini and micro actuators are also commonly used. For very small models (those with a gross weight of less than 10 grams), because of their compact size, low power draw, and reduced weight, actuators are the only viable solution. Mini actuators are also ideal for aileron control and steering applications within remote controlled aircraft.

The use of a linear actuator in any application can often provide optimal performance that is both reliable and durable. Modern linear actuators feature a highly leveraged ball and nut screw and can offer efficiency above ninety percent. When compared to traditional actuators, which provide efficiencies between twenty and seventy percent, the choice is clear. Their strength, small size, and versatility make linear actuators an irreplaceable aspect of any aeronautic control system.


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