Aerospace & Aircraft Actuators: What Are They, Types of Actuators, & How They Work

What Is an Aerospace Actuator?

An actuator is a device or component that converts power into motion. Actuators come in a tremendous range of sizes and functions and can convert power into pressure, temperature, and mechanical movements. Each type of actuator works a little differently, depending on the medium used to generate force, such as compressed air, pressurized fluid, electricity, and rotary motion. The role of the actuator is to convert that power into motion or force.

An aerospace actuator is, quite simply, an actuator that performs these functions in an aerospace environment, usually onboard an aircraft. Aerospace actuators are among the most important components aboard an aircraft, triggering trigger functions as simple as opening or closing a valve or as complex as lowering the aircraft’s landing gear. Actuators play a critical role in the reliable function of engine turbines, autopilot systems, and other large assemblies and systems.

Types of Aircraft Actuators

There are several types of aerospace actuators already in heavy use, and new varieties are currently in development. Here are the most common types of actuators seen in the aerospace industry.

Linear Actuators

Linear actuators convert rotary motion into linear motion and are among the most common types of aircraft actuators. They can push, pull, and hold components of all sizes with more power, speed, and precision than the human body alone is capable of. As a result, linear actuators have many applications throughout an aircraft. Common examples include:

  • Engaging and retracting aircraft landing gear.
  • Engaging the aircraft’s wing flaps.
  • Controlling reverse thrust functions.

Hydraulic Actuators

Hydraulic actuators use fluids to generate power, force, and torque. Hydraulic actuators are extremely powerful and can generate immense amounts of force while weighing relatively little and without taking up too much space, making them an excellent choice for high-force applications.

Hydraulic actuators offer several other key advantages. Hydraulic actuators don’t use any electricity and are easy to maintain compared to some other types of aircraft actuators. They can also be engaged very quickly, which is advantageous in many circumstances.

Applications for hydraulic actuators include:

  • Aircraft landing gear.
  • Wheel brakes.
  • Constant-speed propellers.

Solenoid Actuators

Solenoid actuators convert electrical energy into mechanical action via the use of electromagnetics. Wire is coiled tightly around an iron core with a ferromagnetic plunger. Running an electrical current through the coil generates a magnetic field, which triggers the movement of the plunger.

Solenoid actuators operate quickly and can be easier to install than some other types of aircraft actuators. Solenoid actuators are utilized throughout the aircraft for a wide variety of applications, including:

  • Starting aircraft engines.
  • Deicing systems.
  • Evacuation systems.
  • Opening and closing of valves to control the flow of fluid and air in fuel metering units, engine control systems, and environmental control systems.

Aerospace Actuators From NMG

NMG Aerospace has years of experience designing and manufacturing aerospace actuators for a wide range of applications throughout the aircraft. In 2016, we made the strategic decision to acquire Electromotive Inc. to expand and deepen our in-house expertise on aerospace actuators and actuation technology.

With our extensive knowledge of aircraft assemblies and systems that rely on actuators to operate, we offer tremendous insight into the design and production process and can help our customers develop reliable systems from nosecone to tail. Our actuator manufacturing, assembly, and testing facilities can withstand pressures up to 10,000 psi, so we can handle robust assemblies and projects.

To learn more about our aerospace actuator manufacturing and design capabilities, talk to a member of our team >