Spoilers are devices located on the wing that reduce, or “spoil,” the lift being produced by aircraft. They can be utilized in a number of ways, both in flight and on the ground. Flight spoilers provide additional drag to aid in slowing aircraft down during flight while ground spoilers are used during landing to help bring the plane to a complete stop.
It is important to note that spoilers are not just revealing snippets that give away the ending of films and tv shows. In aviation, spoilers serve as flight control surfaces found on larger aircraft in particular. They are available in two primary forms, those of which have been previously described as flight spoilers and ground spoilers. Regardless of their use, spoilers are utilized to disrupt the lift produced by the wing. In fact, they “spoil” lift by popping out into the fastest moving air just above the wing.
You may ask yourself: “Why would a pilot want to spoil lift?” Slowing down a high-performance aircraft is quite difficult to do. During flight, pilots who want to make a steep approach to the airport or a quick descent from one altitude to another must build up speed. As speed increases in descent, lift is simultaneously produced by the wing. This added speed makes it harder for the aircraft to continue descending. Spoilers remedy this by reducing the wing’s lift in descent, allowing for a steep and slow path to the runway.
Speed Brakes vs. Spoilers
Speed brakes and spoilers are often conflated since their aim is to achieve similar ends: halting or slowing down aircraft. However, speed brakes are smaller, less complex devices found on small, high-performance aircraft. Located near the apex of the wing’s chamber, they usually pop straight up when deployed. Though the term speed brakes is often used interchangeably with spoilers, they are incredibly different devices. A brake is utilized to add parasite drag and has no effect on the lift made by the wing. In contrast, spoilers are designed to stall a specific part of the wing, reducing lift as a result. Furthermore, it adds drag, but primarily dumps lift. With this in mind, spoilers disrupt lift and create drag so they may be considered both lift spoilers and drag-producing brakes.
Flight Spoilers vs. Ground Spoilers
Most planes have numerous spoilers along the upper side of the wings. While some work as flight spoilers, others are only ground spoilers. Nonetheless, either variation is controlled by automatic flight controls, so that the pilot does not have to think about their use or when they must be deployed. Normally, there is just a control to “arm” them, keeping them ready for deployment when needed.
As a plane rolls out after reaching the ground, the wing is still generating a lot of lift. If the wings still support some of the aircraft’s weight, then a portion of the weight cannot be stopped by the brakes alone. For them to work properly, the wheel brakes must support the full weight of the plane. Ground spoilers solve this problem by disrupting the wing's lift, allowing the weight to be transferred to the wheels and brakes with haste. They work in tandem with the wheel brakes and engine thrust reversers to stop the plane.
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