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Welcome to our next passenger basics—or PAX BasX series—where we answer all your burning questions on what it’s like to be onboard of, charter, or own a private jet.
Most of us have driven a car or ridden a bicycle before, but the wonder that is modern air travel is an elusive concept. How do these heavy, metal aircraft actually move us effortless around the skies? Is it the same way a car accelerates on the ground or is there some mysterious air-magic involved?
We asked our expert pilots and technicians to help us understand the basics of aircraft mechanics in a way that doesn’t require an engineering certificate.
“Do private jets have a reverse?”
Technically yes, jets can reverse themselves using exhaust pushed out and to the side of the engines. This is known as reverse thrust and it is mostly used to assist in deceleration upon landing and not used when moving around an airfield or ramp.
Turboprop engines are unique and are capable of a reversing direction. These engines also have gearing similar to a manual transmission car which allows the propeller blades to be rotated into a reverse thrust position. Jet engines, however, do not have a transmission—all the movement comes from the engine pushing air back, generating a forward thrust.
“But how does the aircraft stay in the sky?”
All aircraft of any size fly by moving air, either by propellers or turbines such as those in jet engines. Air flows over the wings as the engine or propellers push the plane forward, rapidly creating a movement called lift. Lift generates an upward force when the pressure on the top of the wing is less than the pressure on the bottom of the wing. Lift overcomes the size and weight of the aircraft holding it up in the air. Since aircraft engines use air to generate thrust, they can only fly “so high” before the air is too thin to generate enough thrust to keep them aloft, this is known as the maximum altitude of the aircraft.
“But what about the wheels? Car wheels make the car move, right?”
Normally, the wheels on an aircraft aren’t powered or motorized. They spin freely as the plane moves forward or when towed by a tractor or “pushback” tug. The wheels do have braking capacity but are not used to actually move the aircraft. The tires on the wheels of the aircraft are super strong and you almost never see a “blowout” of a jet tire like you would on a car or even a bicycle. Why? Even though the tires are proportionately small compared to the size of the jet, they are specially made with reinforced treads, have distinct exterior groove patterns in the rubber to assist with skidding rather than rolling when landing, and most importantly are inflated at a much greater pressure than your car—usually 6 to 10 times greater and filled with nitrogen rather than air
“Can an aircraft brake in midair?”
Aircrafts are able to slow or stop their forward motion in a number of ways. On the ground, reverse thrust in the engines assist in landing as do brakes in the wheels once they have touched down, slowing acceleration. These disc brakes in the wheels are similar to the ones in your car. They operate using calipers to squeeze pads against a metal disc to create friction which ultimately slows the aircraft to a hault.
In the air, air brakes or speed brakes are devices on an aircraft that increase drag or provide resistance during landing to slow the aircraft down. Spoilers, plates on the top surface of the wing that can be extended or retracted, increase drag like air brakes, whilst also reducing lift (the upward force) slowing the aircraft down.
Still have questions about how private jets work? Don’t stress! Our experienced pilots, technicians, and maintenance professionals know all the “ins and outs” of avionics and will always get you safely to your next destination. Click here to enquire about a charter booking and let us handle the details!