Engine thrust reversal systems are initiated to decelerate aircraft speed during landing rolls and rejected takeoffs, and is especially necessary during emergencies and increased airport traffic. When reverse thrust is brought into action, engine airflow is redirected to help slow down the plane. As commercial engines are designed to generate forward thrust, thrust reversal is crucial for aircraft safety during events of emergency braking and landing procedures. To better understand how these components function, this blog will further dive into how thrust reversers function, alongside their various types that suit different aircraft requirements.
A nacelle surrounds a jet engine which also encompasses thrust reversers. In a typical thrust reversing procedure, incoming airflow is compressed and mixed with fuel to aid combustion, and the resulting exhaust gas is then directed toward a nozzle for providing thrust to oppose forward movement. Thrust reversal is a manual process initiated in the aircraft cockpit by pulling the thrust-lever further back. Once sufficient deceleration has been achieved, thrust reversal is halted to prevent debris from flying into the engine intake and causing damage to equipment.
Reverse thrusters are one of the three main mechanisms to slow down an aircraft during landing. The reverse thrust system minimizes the pressure placed on the brakes to enable shorter landing distances by almost a third. Moreover, proximity switches, limit switches, and proximity sensors are also critical components of thrust reversal systems that are used to monitor and maintain the stowed position to prevent them from getting activated unnecessarily during in-flight phases. Apart from slowing down an aircraft, thrust reversers also contribute to managing internal and external pressure differences, enhancing noise reduction, and bolstering shielding against fire and lightning.
Some of the most common thrust reversers found in commercial airliners are:
These reverser systems are also called bucket-type reversers, and they are well suited for 3000 lbf jet engines because of their self-contained, economic, and lightweight structures. Target reversers can be manually operated, and they use bucket-type doors to reverse the engine’s hot gas flow. This hydraulically operated system uses mechanical locks to hold the buckets in their extended positions for increasing thrust without any retraction of the buckets. The Boeing 707 was the first aircraft to use this system with two hinged reverser buckets for blocking the flow of exhaust so that it could be redirected forward.
A popular choice for turbofan engines, many aircraft come equipped with pneumatic clamshell doors that open to vent and redirect thrust forward. However, they are not as efficient for turbojet engines.
In this type of system, the backward motion of the cowl blocks the cold air being generated from the fan. The airflow is then redirected through a series of cascades lining the inner circumference of the nacelle, causing the deceleration of the aircraft. The cold-stream thrust reverser cascade system is made from aluminum alloy through a process known as investment casting.
Cascade-clamshell thrust reversers are designed for turbojets containing high-pressure compressors instead of large, low-pressure ones. Meaning, hot exhaust air is the only air available to the system for reverse thrust. Additionally, cascade-clamshell designs work according to the same principle as the turbofan cascade design.
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