Updated: Sep 18, 2020
Large aircraft with power brakes require anti-skid systems. It is not possible to immediately ascertain in the flight deck when a wheel stops rotating and begins to skid, especially in aircraft with multiple-wheel main landing gear assemblies. A skid not corrected can quickly lead to a tire blowout, possible damage to the aircraft, and control of the aircraft may be lost.
The anti-skid system not only detects wheel skid, it also detects when wheel skid is imminent. It automatically relieves pressure to the brake pistons of the wheel in question by momentarily connecting the pressurized brake fluid area to the hydraulic system return line. This allows the wheel to rotate and avoid a skid. Lower pressure is then maintained to the brake at a level that slows the wheel without causing it to skid.
Maximum braking efficiency exists when the wheels are decelerating at a maximum rate but are not skidding. If a wheel decelerates too fast, it is an indication that the brakes are about to lock and cause a skid. To ensure that this does not happen, each wheel is monitored for a deceleration rate faster than a preset rate. When excessive deceleration is detected, hydraulic pressure is reduced to the brake on that wheel. To operate the anti-skid system, flight deck switches must be placed in the ON position. After the aircraft touches down, the pilot applies and holds full pressure to the rudder brake pedals. The anti-skid system then functions automatically until the speed of the aircraft has dropped to approximately 20 mph. The system returns to manual braking mode for slow taxi and ground maneuvering.
Figure 1 Antiskid switches in the cockpit.
There are various designs of anti-skid systems. Most contain three main types of components: wheel speed sensors, antiskid control valves, and a control unit. These units work together without human interference. Some anti-skid systems provide complete automatic braking. The pilot needs only to turn on the auto brake system, and the anti-skid components slow the aircraft without pedal input. [Figure 1] Ground safety switches are wired into the circuitry for anti-skid and auto brake systems. Wheel speed sensors are located on each wheel equipped with a brake assembly. Each brake also has its own anti-skid control valve. Typically, a single control box contains the anti-skid comparative circuitry for all of the brakes on the aircraft. [Figure 2]
Figure 2 A wheel sensor (left), a control unit (center), and a control valve (right) are components of an antiskid system. A sensor is located on each wheel equipped with a brake assembly. An antiskid control valve for each brake assembly is controlled from a single central control unit.
Wheel Speed Sensors
Wheel speed sensors are transducers. They may be alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC). The typical AC wheel speed sensor has a stator mounted in the wheel axle. A coil around it is connected to a controlled DC source so that when energized, the stator becomes an electromagnet. A rotor that turns inside the stator is connected to the rotating wheel hub assembly through a drive coupling so that it rotates at the speed of the wheel. Lobes on the rotor and stator cause the distance between the two components to constantly change during rotation. This alters the magnetic coupling or reluctance between the rotor and stator. As the electromagnetic field changes, a variable frequency AC is induced in the stator coil. The frequency is directly proportional to the speed of rotation of the wheel. The AC signal is fed to the control unit for processing. A DC wheel speed sensor is similar, except that a DC is produced the magnitude of which is directly proportional to wheel speed. [Figure 3]
Figure 3. The stator of an antiskid wheel sensor is mounted in the axle, and the rotor is coupled to the wheel hub spider that rotates with the wheel.
The control unit can be regarded as the brain of the antiskid system. It receives signals from each of the wheel sensors. Comparative circuits are used to determine if any of the signals indicate a skid is imminent or occurring on a particular wheel. If so, a signal is sent to the control valve of the wheel to relieve hydraulic pressure to that brake which prevents or relieves the skid. The control unit may or may not have external test switches and status indicating lights. It is common for it to be located in the avionics bay of the aircraft. [Figure 4]
Figure 4. A rack mounted antiskid control unit from an airliner.
The Boeing anti-skid control valve block diagram in Figure 5 gives further detail on the functions of an anti-skid control unit. Other aircraft may have different logic to achieve similar end results. DC systems do not require an input converter since DC is received from the wheel sensors, and the control unit circuitry operates primarily with DC. Only the functions on one circuit card for one wheel brake assembly are shown in Figure 5. Each wheel has its own identical circuitry card to facilitate simultaneous operation. All cards are housed in a single control unit that Boeing calls a control shield.
Figure 5. A Boeing 737 antiskid control unit internal block diagram.
The converter shown changes the AC frequency received from the wheel sensor into DC voltage that is proportional to wheel speed. The output is used in a velocity reference loop that contains deceleration and velocity reference circuits. The converter also supplies input for the spoiler system and the locked wheel system, which is discussed at the end of this section. A velocity reference loop output voltage is produced, which represents the instantaneous velocity of the aircraft. This is compared to converter output in the velocity comparator. This comparison of voltages is essentially the comparison of the aircraft speed to wheel speed. The output from the velocity comparator is a positive or negative error voltage corresponding to whether the wheel speed is too fast or too slow for optimum braking efficiency for a given aircraft speed.
The error output voltage from the comparator feeds the pressure bias modulator circuit. This is a memory circuit that establishes a threshold where the pressure to the brakes provides optimum braking. The error voltage causes the modulator to either increase or decrease the pressure to the brakes in attempt to hold the modulator threshold. It produces a voltage output that is sent to the summing amplifier to do this. A lead output from the comparator anticipates when the tire is about to skid with a voltage that decreases the pressure to the brake. It sends this voltage to the summing amplifier as well. A transient control output from the comparator designed for rapid pressure dump when a sudden skid has occurred also sends voltage to the summing amp. As the name suggests, the input voltages to the amplifier are summed, and a composite voltage is sent to the valve driver. The driver prepares the current required to be sent to the control valve to adjust the position of the valve. Brake pressure increases, decreases, or holds steady depending on this value.