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Is there a switch on the instrument panel that will set the thrust reversers to activate on touchdown like the autobrake? Or is using the thrust levers the only way to activate them?

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Can it be done? Yes. Is it done? No. The consequences of unintended operations are serious. To the best of my knowledge, no aircraft has the option set automatic thrust reverser. Using the levers are the only way to operate them. In fact, most of the design efforts have gone the other way- to ensure that thrust reversers are not deployed inadvertently.

  • In most aircraft, the Reverse Thrust Levers can be raised only when the Forward Thrust Levers are in the idle position. The thrust reversers have separate levers in front of the engine controls, which are prevented mechanically from operating otherwise.

Boeing 787 Thrust reversers

Source: bloginblack.de

  • There are sensors installed in the engines which auto-stow the thrust reversers in flight.
  • The design philosophy of thrust reversers is that it is better to not deploy them when needed rather than deploy them when not needed i.e. they are designed to fail.

The main reason for such a design philosophy is safety. Any uncommanded deployment of thrust reversers in any phase of flight can have serious consequences.

  • Takeoff- If the trust reversers are deployed in one engine before $V_{1}$, the aircraft will veer off the runway. If it is deployed after $V_{1}$ and before $V_{2}$,the aircraft cannot achieve $V_{r}$ required to initiate rotation.
  • Flight- Deployment of thrust reversers during flight can lead to controllability issues.
  • Landing- Deployment of thrust reversers during landing practically eliminates the option of rejected landing.

Because of these reasons and reliability issues with thrust reversers, there is no option for automatic deployment of thrust reversers.

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    $\begingroup$ You also don't want them kicking in during a go-around which includes the wheels touching the runway and weight on gear. $\endgroup$ – Simon Sep 5 '15 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ If you have the spoilers armed don't they automatically deploy on touchdown? Is it that spoiler deploymentjust doesn't have such serious effects as TR do? $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Sep 5 '15 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ The main effect of the spoiler deployment is that it 'dumps' lift and as a result, the weight is transferred from wings to the undercarriage. Deployment of thrust reversers, on the other hand, causes serious thrust imbalance (The difference in thrust between engines will be more than 100% of single engine thrust). It is practically not possible for the pilot to control the aircraft in such an event. $\endgroup$ – aeroalias Sep 5 '15 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ @TomMcW, spoilers are also extended and retracted very fast and with mimimal risk of being asymmetric. Thrust reversers take much longer and there can be significant variation causing asymmetry. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Sep 5 '15 at 20:04
  • $\begingroup$ Asking a related question. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Sep 5 '15 at 21:22

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