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10 Ways Aircraft and Automobiles Are Mechanically Similar

Aircraft and automobiles are two of the most used modes of transportation that get us from one place to another via air or land. While aircraft transport people and goods through the sky and automobiles on roads, several mechanical similarities in how they generate power and move are interesting to explore. If you want to know the main differences between aircraft and automobiles, keep reading! 

Propulsion Systems

Both aircraft and automobiles use propulsion systems to generate thrust or power and move the vehicle. Aircraft employ propellers or jet engines that burn fuel to produce thrust, and automobiles have internal combustion engines that also burn fuel to generate power and spin the wheels. These propulsion systems rely on similar components like fuel pumps, pistons, valves, carburetors, and injectors. 

Combustions Vs Propulsions Systems 

The principles of internal combustion and jet propulsion are comparable between aircraft and automobiles. According to Boeing, modern aircraft jet engines are up to 97% efficient at converting fuel into thrust. Similarly, the most advanced automobile engines are over 40% efficient at converting fuel into power.

Control Surfaces and Steering

Aircraft have primary control surfaces like ailerons, elevators, and rudders to control roll, pitch, and yaw.  They redirect air flow to change the aircraft’s orientation and direction. Similarly, automobiles have control mechanisms like a steering column, suspension, and brakes to direct the vehicle by controlling the wheel angles and speed. These control systems’ basic purpose and function are the same in both transport modes. 


The aerodynamic shape and body of aircraft and automobiles are designed, tested, and optimized to minimize drag and maximize efficiency. 

Efficiency of Shape

Aircraft fuselages and automobile bodies have streamlined shapes refined using wind tunnel testing. Optimizing aerodynamics accounts for a major portion of the efficiency gains in modern aircraft and automobile design. Well-designed aerodynamics can reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency by over 15% for aircraft and 10% for automobiles.

Landing Gear

Aircraft have retractable or fixed landing gears with components like wheels, brakes, shocks, and struts to support the weight while taxiing, taking off, and landing. Automobiles also have comparable mechanisms with wheels, tires, brakes, and suspension systems to allow controlled movement on the ground. The design requirements and architectural components of landing gears are similar between aircraft and automobiles.


Both aircraft and automobiles use a set of wheels to facilitate ground movement and landing. Aircraft have multiple wheels on the landing gear while cars have four or more wheels.


Hydraulic disc brakes are commonly used in aircraft and high-performance automobiles to slow down the vehicle on the ground. Anti-skid brake systems are also found in both transport types.

Shock absorbers

Shock absorbers are necessary for aircraft and automobiles to cushion the impact of landing or driving over rough terrain. Heavy-duty shock absorbers are required especially for aircraft.



Both aircraft and automobiles use similar navigation equipment like compasses, accelerometers, gyroscopes, and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to determine their position, direction of travel, and destination. 


Conventional compasses and gyrocompasses are found in aircraft and some automobiles as backup navigation tools in case satellite navigation is unavailable.


Two-way radios are used in both aircraft and automobiles, especially in remote areas outside the range of mobile phone coverage. The radios enable communication with ground stations and air traffic control.

Communication Equipment

Aircraft and automobiles both use radio equipment, transponders, and antennas to communicate with control towers and other vehicles. They share similar communication protocols and technologies for navigation, collision avoidance, and traffic control.


Transponders installed in aircraft and automobiles transmit a signal back to ground-based radar stations. In aircraft, transponders are crucial for air traffic control and collision avoidance.

Weather Radar

Both aircraft and some high-end luxury automobiles have weather radar to detect precipitation and weather disturbances along the travel route. The radar provides an advanced warning about adverse weather.

Fuel Systems

Fuel Pumps

Fuel pumps transfer fuel from the storage tanks to the engine of the vehicle. Multiple fuel pumps are often installed with backup pumps in case the primary pump fails.

Fuel Injectors

Fuel injectors spray atomized fuel into the intake manifold/cylinders to be mixed with air. Fuel injection provides more efficient and controlled combustion than carburetors.

Hydraulic Systems

Hydraulic Pumps

Hydraulic pumps generate hydraulic pressure and power various aircraft systems like landing gear, brakes, and flight control actuators. Automobiles also use hydraulic power for braking, power steering, suspension, and transmission.

Hydraulic Reservoirs

Hydraulic reservoirs store hydraulic fluid and allow for the expansion and contraction of the fluid depending on temperature changes. Aircraft and most heavy-duty vehicles have dedicated hydraulic reservoirs. 

Pneumatic Systems

Air Compressors

Air compressors compress ambient air and deliver high-pressure air to various systems. In aircraft, air compressors power the air conditioning, pressurization, and de-icing systems. In automobiles, air compressors are crucial for air suspension, air braking, and tire inflation systems.

Air Dryers

Moisture needs to be removed from the compressed air to prevent ice buildup and corrosion. Both aircraft and heavy-duty trucks use air dryers to remove water vapor and contaminants from the compressed air. 

Electrical Systems

The electrical components in aircraft and automobiles, like batteries, alternators, wires, fuses, lights, etc., serve similar purposes. They provide power to start the vehicle, run accessories and equipment, recharge batteries, and ignition in internal combustion engines. The voltages and wiring mechanisms may differ, but the basic functionality is parallel.


All mechanical and electrical systems on aircraft and automobiles require frequent inspections, servicing, changing of aircraft hydraulic fluid in case of aircraft, and repair or replacement of components to keep the vehicle airworthy, roadworthy, and safe.


While aircraft and automobiles have significant differences in their operating environments and sizes, there are many technical similarities in how they generate power, move, and are controlled and maintained. Understanding these shared mechanical principles provides insight into today’s advanced aviation and automotive transport systems. Though complex, they still rely on some very fundamental concepts.