What powers the air required for pneumatic brakes in large airliner aircraft? Is it bled from the engines, or do they have a separate motor and pump?


2 Answers 2


For a medium size turboprop, the F-27: two separate compressors, driven by the turboprop engines.

From this article

Fairchild’s F-27 is the first American-made plane to use a complete pneumatic system to operate landing gear, wheel brakes, nose wheel steering, propeller brakes, and passenger door operation. It also has an emergency air supply that will lower the landing gears and operate the brakes.

Compressed air for the system is supplied by two 2-cfm, 3300-psi compressors located in each of the engine nacelles. The compressors are driven through a gearbox by Rolls Royce Dart engines, which power the aircraft. They carry their own individual dehydration and filtration equipment to supply clean, dry air at a pressure of 3300 psi

Most present day airliners use the hydraulic system for the landing gear, including wheel braking. For instance on the B737:

The normal brake system and autobrakes are powered by hydraulic system B. If brake pressure drops below 1500psi, hydraulic system A automatically provides alternate brakes which are manual only (ie no autobrake) and the brake pressure returns to 3000psi.

The hydraulic systems are each powered by an Engine Driven Pump and an Electric Motor Driven Pump.

  • $\begingroup$ This makes me wonder if the F-27 sounds like a semi-truck when it's taxiing. :) $\endgroup$ Jul 16, 2019 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ Yes it would hiss if you were close to the brakes while they were being used but without that squeak noise from those big bellows units. This was something more popular with Russian designs, and I think the Fokker was the only western transport a/c to do that. Lots of technical advantages, but the difficultly of sealing HP air, and controlling humidity, in a system where you are using it to do hard physical work is a nightmare from a reliability standpoint. Once the fire risk for hydraulics was mitigated by the switch to phosphate ester fluid, pneumatic actuation became much less attractive. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Jul 16, 2019 at 12:53
  • $\begingroup$ Well, yes, the Russians have been manufacturing the very reliable Vedeneyev M14P radial engine for a very long time, and to my knowledge pretty much all of them are air-start. Makes perfect sense. Not a good idea to rely on a battery in the middle of Siberia. :) $\endgroup$ Jul 16, 2019 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ As long as you religiously monitor for air leaks and chase them down. The cylinder will hold its charge for months... until a tiny leak starts and then you're screwed, and it's the old hand bombing start method. Years ago I was planning to get checked out in an air-start Wilga to tow gliders until I found out I was going to have to pay for the airplane time myself. The Wilga's AI-14 engine's starter has a battery operated compressor to keep it charged, so you were still dependent on a battery in the end. For reliable starting any time anywhere, hard to beat a hand cranked inertia starter. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Jul 16, 2019 at 16:47

As far as I know, no modern airliner uses air to power the brakes. The systems are hydraulic.

  • $\begingroup$ This makes me wonder if OP heard the term "Air Brake" and assumed it meant pneumatic brakes? $\endgroup$
    – Ron Jensen
    Jul 17, 2019 at 15:16

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