Different Types of Aircraft Actuators

Found in many critical applications in the aviation industry, actuation systems are responsible for operating everything from cargo bay doors and landing gear to engine components and flight control surfaces.

As aerospace technology is constantly improving and advancing with manufacturers and engineers making aerospace equipment more efficient, streamlined, and cost-effective, actuation systems are only becoming more reliable. Due to the conditions in which aircraft are operated, they must be able to withstand a myriad of conditions such as strong vibrations, temperature extremes, and more. More than that, they must be capable of achieving very high dynamic forces but remain lightweight and compact.

Different Types of Actuators

To meet the needs of several applications, there are a few different types of actuators. The three main types are electro-hydraulic, electro-hydrostatic, and electro-mechanical actuators.

Electro-Hydraulic Actuators

Serving as the most popular type, electro-hydraulic actuators combine the low infrastructure costs and simplicity of an electrical power supply with the mechanical failsafe capability and high operating speed of hydraulic or fluid-powered actuation systems. Put more simply, these units combine the benefits of a hydraulic actuator and an electric or electromechanical control system. They are especially handy where only electric power supply is an option and mechanical failsafe characteristics are vital.

Electro-Hydrostatic Actuators

By combining the design elements of electric and electro-hydraulic actuators, electro-hydrostatic actuators convert electrical power into localized hydraulic power for flight control. Generally, they come equipped with a hydraulic pump, eliminating the need for separate pumps and tubing. This configuration is architecturally simple, improving reliability and safety.

Electro-Mechanical Actuators

As the interest in producing more sustainable, energy-efficient technology grows, there has been a shift from traditional hydraulic systems to electromechanical actuators. With this in mind, electro-mechanical actuators convert electricity into mechanical force, and they offer the strength of hydraulic actuators with added precise movement and motion control. This is because their simple design and computerized control system provides enhanced control, reliability, and improved fuel efficiency.

Applications and Capabilities of Aircraft Actuators

As previously mentioned, aircraft actuators are an integral part of many standard airplane functions. Common applications of these systems include:

  • Flaps
  • Thrust reversers
  • Visual guidance systems
  • Gimbals actuator
  • Cargo bay doors and lifts
  • Autopilot control
  • Throttle control
  • Horizontal stabilizer trim
  • Winch and gimbal systems
  • Doors and elevators


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