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The BAe 146 and Fokker F-28, which are virtually alone among jetliners in lacking thrust reversers, compensate by using large, tail-mounted airbrakes to help slow the aircraft during descent and landing:

A.I.R.B.R.A.K.E.S.

(Image by Adrian Pingstone at Wikimedia Commons.)

According to this answer to a previous question about why we don’t see this on more (and bigger) jetliners, the BAe 146 and F-28 are only able to use tail-mounted airbrakes because, unlike most jetliners, they lack an APU in the tailcone:

...Air brakes such as the RJ100 have only upsides, since they influence drag only, not lift. They're not used everywhere because the bit of fuselage where they are mounted usually houses an APU.

(Emphasis added.)

But I don’t see why having an APU in the tailcone would preclude the use of tail-mounted airbrakes; the APU is situated in the middle of the tailcone and exhausts out the tip of the tail,1 while tail-mounted airbrakes are mounted on the sides of the tail and deploy to the left and right:

Hi, guys!

(Image by dtom_cro at Photobucket.)

As such, having a tailcone APU shouldn’t necessarily preclude having airbrakes on the sides of the tail; in the 146, the space between the airbrakes is basically empty, with only a light truss supporting the rear collision beacon, but it'd be easy to have something more substantial - such as, for instance, an APU-and-other-machinery-housing structure - in between the petals:

APU 'n' airbrakes

What am I missing here?


1: As @ymb1 points out in their comment, the BAe 146 does have an APU, but its APU obviously does not exhaust out the tip of the tail; that statement regarding APU exhaust placement refers to its location in the vast majority of jetliners in general.2

2: That last statement obviously does not apply for jetliners where that real estate is taken up by a full-blown engine (727, Trident, Tu-154, Yak-40, L-1011, Yak-42, etc.).

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  • $\begingroup$ Note: from your photos I see an APU in the tail section (exhaust on the starboard side). $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Feb 27 at 22:36
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    $\begingroup$ @ymb1: Oh, is that what that hole is? Makes my point even pointier, I guess... $\endgroup$ – Sean Feb 27 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ Yep, precisely. $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Feb 27 at 22:38
  • $\begingroup$ Well spotted. Ive edited the original answer. $\endgroup$ – Koyovis Mar 1 at 0:52
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Yes indeed, it is possible to combine an APU with air brakes at the rear of the fuselage. The defining factor is not the presence of an APU, but that of a T-tail.

Aircraft with a conventional set of stabilisers mounted on the rear of the fuselage cannot use the tail cone for expanding air brakes, as deploying them would distort the airflow over the stabiliser.

Note that all aircraft systems add weight and money, and aircraft manufacturers look very closely at where to save weight and money. Do air brakes weigh and cost less than wing slats necessary when lift dumpers are used for airspeed reduction during landing? Two manufacturers of T-tail aircraft determined that it does, with the added advantage of reduced Angle of Attack during approach.

Thrust reversers aid in decelerating the aircraft after touch-down. The brakes of a large, heavy aircraft need to work disproportionally harder than those of a lighter and smaller aircraft such as the BAe 146 and Fokker 100. Braking efficiency is improved by deploying lift dumpers, and it may make sense to use these as air brakes during approach. Particularly if stabilisers mounted at the rear fuselage take away the obvious place for mounting the air brakes.

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The airlines prevent them or: the airlines won't buy them if they were offered

The photos you have already show an APU in the tail section (exhaust on the starboard side).

Adding air brakes requires increased structural integrity (weight; money) and additional system connections (weight; money).

When they are of no use, they're simply not added. Why are they of no use?

Well, pure air brakes (as opposed to speed-brakes/spoilers) have 1–2 functions (for jetliners):

  1. Compensating for the lack of thrust reversers
  2. Performing steep approaches when the thrust-to-weight ratio is high (small plane that has too much power). As I noted here: The thrust-to-weight ratio for the RJ100 is 0.28:1, compared to 0.16:1 for the comparable Boeing 717. It's even higher for the smaller RJ's.

Neither affect most jetliners (note that the babybus (A318) can be certified for steep approaches, and it doesn't need such an air brake).

The airlines would rather carry payload (paying load) and not bother paying for maintenance to regularly check and fix a novel item – not all airports are London City: high thrust-to-weight ratio is good for taking off from short runways and performing steep climbs from in-city airports for noise reduction.

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  • $\begingroup$ You won't see flight spoilers (speed brakes) being used to steepen approaches. You have to be 10kt above Vref to extend them on a CRJ900 and you shouldn't be that hot in the first place, and you aren't allowed to use them at all below 300 ft. In general they are only used when really necessary to steepen descent in an arrival. Some airlines discourage their use unless absolutely necessary because the rumble/vibrations tend to scare the pax. $\endgroup$ – John K Feb 28 at 1:44
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnK: Agreed, but this is not what I said. Rear air brakes are deployed on the RJ and Fokker jets to touchdown (you can watch an example here). To avoid confusion I have now used a different term. $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Feb 28 at 2:41
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    $\begingroup$ Note that A318 does use spoilers during steep approach. But it has especially low stall speed (because it has the large wings of its larger cousins) and alpha-floor protection will retract them if the pilots let it slow down too much. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Apr 12 at 11:46
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There is no technical obstacle to building tail mounted air brakes and APU. The Fokker 70 has a tail air brake, APU and also thrust reversers and spoilers as seen in this great photo from airliners.net: Fokker 70 landing in AMS

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    $\begingroup$ there could be a technical obstacle, depending on the space available. After all, both the airbrake mechanism and the APU take up space and the tail end of most aircraft isn't known for having a lot of space. I both the F70/100 and Bae146 the APU sits slightly forward of the actual tail end for that reason, if you look at other designs the APU tends to sit further aft. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Sep 24 at 4:06

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