When a Boeing 777 comes barrelling down the runway at 150-plus mph, it sometimes feels to its passengers like the plane is struggling mightily to stop. That’s only because it is, says Steven R. Hall, professor of aeronautics and astronautics and a pilot. In an emergency, brakes alone can stop a commercial jet, but the heat produced may be enough to melt the plane’s tires, he says.
Hall says small, propeller aircraft do use brakes almost exclusively to slow down. Larger turboprop aircraft have propellers that can be adjusted to produce rearward thrust after touchdown, rapidly slowing the aircraft. Commercial jet transport aircraft come to a halt through a combination of brakes, spoilers to increase wing drag and thrust reversers on the engines. – Deborah Halber