During the 1960s, Boeing offered gravel kits for 737s which were necessary for the aircraft to perform safe takeoffs and landings along runways, those of which were unpaved at the time. On an unpaved runway, foreign object debris (FOD) like gravel have the potential to become ingested by the tires of the aircraft which can cause serious issues with vehicle function. This protective equipment has been phased out of the market in modern times, and companies like Canadian North operate their final few aircraft featuring gravel kits with the intention of retiring them by 2022. A gravel kit is a modification that helps aircraft avoid contact with FOD when taking off or landing along an unpaved runway. This modification is intended to prevent harmful materials on the ground from being sprayed into the engine and onto the wings during takeoff, landing, and taxiing.
The gravel kits are composed of several pieces of protective equipment, including a nose gear gravel deflector which happens to be the most noticeable component. This part is used to prevent gravel from hitting the underbelly of the plane which has the potential to enter the engines. They are constructed of steel that is resistant to corrosion, along with a sheet metal edge that offers aerodynamic stability. Moreover, there exist smaller deflectors on the main gear so the flaps avoid damage. Hydraulic tubing and speed brake cables are also protected by metal shields while glass fibers reinforce the inboard flaps. Additionally, a metal edge is secured onto elephant ear fairings, while the undersides of the wings and fuselage are covered with teflon-based paint to help these parts resist abrasion. Other important components of the kit include a retractable anti-collision light, vortex dissipators, and screens in the wheel well which help to protect the components of an aircraft from damage. All of these components are fitted onto the aircraft to protect its undersides from an accumulation of damage which could impact the plane’s performance.
Airplane gravel kits have been phased out of production as most modern airport runways tend to be paved which reduces their demand. The kits are still used on aircraft that land on rough surfaces to keep gravel from contacting the underside and engine of the aircraft. At its peak, there were more than two thousand Boeing operations on unpaved runways in places like Alaska and Canada where unpaved runways were common. As of early 2020, some airlines were still flying 737 aircraft which employ airplane gravel kits including Nolinor Aviation, Air Inuit, and Canadian North. Newer 737s are rarely fitted with gravel kits because of runway renovations which have taken place around the world. Simply put, there is no need for this technology anymore unless the runway has uneven ground.
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