Understanding the Power of Aircraft Hydraulic Systems

Posted on February 18, 2022 James Hinds Aircraft

In aviation, hydraulic systems are the backbone of aircraft, allowing pilots to carry out flight plans with ease. Hydraulic systems operate by driving machinery via fluid pressurization. These systems are responsible for powering other aircraft systems such as landing gear, flight controls, brakes, cargo doors, and thrust reversers. As such, they perform the function of moving and actuating both critical and basic components within aircraft. To understand the importance of hydraulic systems, this blog will provide a brief overview of how they work.

Hydraulic systems play a vital role in the performance of all aircraft due to how they aid numerous components in working optimally. However, this system is not a new phenomenon. In the past, hydraulic systems were incorporated in the form of hydraulic brakes. Within small general aviation aircraft, hydraulic systems provide pressure to activate the wheel brakes, and they operate the retractable landing gear and constant-speed propellers.

With advancements in the technological sector of aviation, hydraulic systems have evolved and become integral to the operability of aircraft. Some of the components they control include flight controls like wings, main landing gear retraction or extension, slats, flaps, and doors, as well as loading ramps on cargo aircraft. Furthermore, they supply power to windshield wiper propellers, and move and actuate the brakes. While they perform countless functions, the basics of hydraulic systems remain the same in all aircraft.

However, depending on the aircraft type and size, more than one hydraulic system can be implemented for safe flight operations. Within the A320 and Boeing 787, flight computers and wires aid the hydraulic system. For instance, any input in the flight deck actuated by pilots is sent via a wire to a computer that controls the landing gear. Then, the computer instructs the hydraulic pumps to pump hydraulic fluid through the system, producing the intended action that the pilot requires. In the next section, we will cover some of the basic components of the hydraulic system.

Components of an Aircraft Hydraulic System

Reservoir: Serving as the source of fluid for the hydraulic pumps, the reservoir contains varying amounts of incompressible fluid or hydraulic oil. Whether the reservoir has fluid or oil is dependent on actuator volume and thermal usage of the fluid.

Hydraulic Pumps: Used to generate the necessary power to pump fluid from the reservoir into different parts of the system, hydraulic pumps are available as either electric, hand, or engine-driven variations that can include gear pumps, as well as fixed displacement and variable displacement piston pumps.

Filters: In line filters are incorporated to keep the hydraulic system clean and the fluid free of contaminants.

Actuating Cylinder: This component changes hydraulic power into mechanical power, and it provides a reversible force in s single direction.

Heat Exchanger: This hydraulic system component keeps the fluid at the proper temperature.

Pressure Relief Valve: A pressure relief valve is utilized to relieve excess pressure by opening up and releasing fluid back into the reservoir.

Control Valves: These valves control the hydraulic fluid in response to a manual or automated system.

Shut Off Valve: Located at the engine firewall, a shut off valve obstructs fluid flow in the case of an engine fire.

Hydraulic Fuses: Hydraulic fuses serve as safety devices designed to automatically seal off a hydraulic line when the operating pressure is too low.


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