How Airplane Spoilers Function

While lift is an aerodynamic force that is paramount for an aircraft to maintain flight, there are times in which the generation of lift needs to be disrupted for certain flight maneuvers. Used in flight and while on the ground, spoilers are devices present on a wing that are able to reduce the amount of lift that is created during movement. Oftentimes, such devices are relied on for reducing speed during flight, and ground spoilers are highly beneficial when landing on a runway. 

In general, spoilers are flight controls found on large aircraft, coming in the form of flight spoiler and ground spoiler variations. While two types exist, both perform the same role in reducing the amount of lift that a wing generates. To do this, the spoilers extend outwards into the area where air is moving the quickest over a wing.

During high-speed flight, it can be difficult for the pilot to safely and efficiently slow down. Whether they are attempting to make a rapid descent or are ready to land, dropping in altitude can often cause the aircraft to speed up even more. This is due to the fact that increased speed also raises the amount of lift that wings produce, thus making it difficult to optimally descend. As such, pilots often rely on the deployment of spoilers so that lift generation is mitigated during a descent. With the proper use of spoilers, a pilot can safely direct the aircraft toward the runway with reduced speed.

Spoilers and speed brakes are often conflated with one another, and it is important to understand the differences between the two. Speed brakes are more compact than spoilers and exhibit a more simplistic design, and they are often installed on small, high-performance aircraft. Situated near the uppermost point of the wing’s camber, speed brakes extend upwards when deployed. Unlike spoilers, speed brakes have little effect on the lift that is produced by a wing. Instead, such devices serve to increase parasitic drag for reducing forward airspeed.

Spoilers, on the other hand, are specifically designed to create a stall on a section of the wing, thus having a direct effect on generated lift. While spoilers are primarily designed for reducing lift, their extension into the flow of air will also lead to an increase in drag. Because of this, standard spoilers are often compared to speedbrakes, leading to some incorrectly using both terms interchangeably for the same devices.

When dealing with spoilers, it is also important to know the difference between flight and ground types. Flight spoilers are deployed equally on each wing, utilized for the means of reducing altitude without raising forward speed. Additionally, flight spoilers are often connected to the primary flight control system so that they can aid ailerons in causing the aircraft to roll. At some speeds, the use of ailerons can cause a significant load to be placed on the wing. To ensure that a roll can be carried out without risk, smaller spoilers can be used to achieve the same end-result. Ground spoilers, meanwhile, are employed for landing operations for the means of dumping lift during touchdown. As all spoilers can be used during landing, flight spoilers are almost always effectively ground spoilers as well during touchdown. Despite this, ground spoilers are not inherently flight spoilers.


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