Parker’s Aircraft Wheel & Brake Division (AWBD) – with its Cleveland Wheels & Brakes product line – has been an industry leader in the design, manufacture, and support of superior braking systems since its founding in 1936. Over that time, AWBD has become one of the world’s most experienced, best-known, and most respected wheel and brake manufacturers. The division’s commitment to safe and sure landings stretches across general, business, and agricultural aviation; civil helicopters; plus military helicopters, trainers, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
1918: the Parker Appliance Company
The story truly begins in 1918 in Cleveland, Ohio, when a 33-year-old engineer named Arthur Parker founded the Parker Appliance Company to develop his unique braking system for trucks and buses, giving birth to today’s preeminent motion and control technology company. As a supply truck driver in World War I, Art saw that vehicles had poor braking systems, often locking up and creating accidents. A pneumatic brake booster system was developed using compressed air to help trucks stop safely.
Parker’s business expanded into the aviation industry, and in 1927 Parker fuel fittings made the first transatlantic flight with Charles Lindbergh on the Spirit of St. Louis, proving the reliability of Parker equipment in critical aviation applications. In the 1970s, Parker would go on to play a prominent role in the expansion of an aircraft wheel and brake builder that will be started in 1936.
1936 to 1950: Cleveland Aircraft Products rolls out
Elmer VanSickle, a professional pilot and Cleveland-area businessman, started the Cleveland Aircraft Products Company — also known as VanSickle Industries — in 1936, producing aircraft wheel and brake equipment. Cleveland began supplying main wheels, tail wheels, and drum brakes for aircraft such as the military Aeronca L-3 and civilian Piper Tri-Pacer.
1951 to 1970: OEM’s choice, disc brake innovation, strategic acquisition
By the 1950s, Cleveland wheels and brakes were gaining the recognition of aircraft manufacturers as the premier equipment for their aircraft, offering reliable stops and long life. “Clevelands” became standard equipment on such legendary airplanes as the Piper Super Cub, Mooney M20/M20A, Piper Apache and Comanche, Lake Aircraft LA-4, and Cessna 150 and 172.
A 1956 innovation brought the introduction of Cleveland’s caliper-type external disc brakes. Within a decade, caliper-type brakes became the preferred design in the general aviation category.
The Cleveland product portfolio expanded in 1969 with the acquisition of Syncro Devices, Inc., a maker of hydraulic valves, shimmy dampers, check valves, power packs, and landing gear actuators. The new product line grew Cleveland’s offerings to include comprehensive aviation braking systems.
1971 to 1980: conversion kits, line expansion, Parker acquires VanSickle Industries
Considered the gold standard by pilots and mechanics alike, Cleveland Wheels & Brakes began offering conversion kits, allowing aircraft owners to replace their OEM equipment with reliable Clevelands. Among the first conversion kits available were those for the Beechcraft Bonanza, Cessna 210, and Ayres Thrush.
Further diversifying its product line in 1977, VanSickle Industries acquired Gerdes Products Company, a producer of master cylinders and parking brake valves. Cleveland was named OEM supplier for the Piper Arrow and Cherokee, Beechcraft Baron, and Gulfstream commander.
After more than 40 years of growth and innovation, VanSickle Industries and Cleveland Wheels & Brakes were acquired by Parker Hannifin Corporation, resulting in the formation of Parker’s Aircraft Wheel & Brake Division (AWBD) in 1978.
1981 to 1990: more kits, more firsts, AWBD joins the military rotorcraft market
In addition to introducing conversion kits for the Beechcraft King Air, de Havilland Twin Otter, and Cessna Citation I business jet, AWBD landed OEM wheel and brake contracts for the Cessna Caravan, Piper Malibu, Air Tractor 500, and Socata TBM700.
This time period represented a significant leap forward for AWBD, when the division landed its first military OEM application: the rotor brake, main wheels, brakes, and tail wheel for the Bell-McDonnell Douglas-Boeing Apache AH-64. Other military wins included Sikorsky’s UH-60 Black Hawk and VH-60 Presidential helicopter, and Bell Boeing’s V-22 featuring the first carbon brake used in a tilt-rotor application. On the civilian side, the first-ever full braking system from AWBD was installed on the Bell 214ST helicopter.
In 1988, Parker acquired McCauley Industrial Corporation, a manufacturer of general aviation wheels and brakes, from Cessna.
1991 to 2000: helicopter business goes up, fixed-wing makers name AWBD
Adding to its helicopter OEM wins, AWBD landed fresh contracts with Sikorsky: the rotor brake, nose wheel, main wheel, and brake for the S-76C and the mainwheel on the CH-53E. Air Tractor designates Parker as its OEM wheel and brake supplier for its 602 and 802 agricultural airplanes, while OEM contracts for the Cessna 172R, Cirrus SR20, and Diamond DA20 general aviation aircraft arrived at AWBD. Beechcraft’s 1900 C&D regional aircraft got a wheel, brake, and brake de-ice manifold conversion kit.
2001 to 2010: New century, new opportunities
General aviation aircraft builder Cirrus named Parker the original equipment wheel and brake provider for its SR22, while Diamond did the same for its DA-40 and DA-42 aircraft. The Pilatus PC-12, a high-performance turboprop single, gets a conversion kit; later in the decade, AWBD is named the OEM wheel and brake supplier for the aircraft. Cessna specs AWBD wheels, brakes, the master cylinder, and parking brake valve for its 162 Sky Catcher.
Light jet wins included a significant bill of material on the Eclipse 500, consisting of the nose and main wheels, brakes, master cylinder, parking brake valve, and reservoir. Honda Aircraft Company called on Parker to provide the shut-off valve, master cylinders, and energy parking brake valve for the HondaJet.
Military program support carried on with the main and nose wheels and brake discs for the General Atomics Predator B UAV, and wheels and brakes for the NHIndustries NH-90 helicopter.
2011 to the present: success breeding success
AWBD military wins resumed formation with the nose wheel for the General Dynamics F-16; the wheels, brakes, and master cylinders for the General Atomics Predator C; and the wheels and brakes for the TAI T-625 helicopter. Leonardo Helicopters selected Parker to supply the wheels and brakes on its AW609 TiltRotor and the wheels, brakes, and hydraulics on the AW169.
Diamond taped Parker for the wheels and brakes on its DA62, while two turboprop singles relies on Parker wheels and brakes: the Piper M600 and Textron Denali. The twin-engine Pilatus PC-24 business jet chose Parker wheels and brakes for its aircraft.
Parker AWBD: building for the next 80
Though the Aircraft Wheel & Brake Division has defined its past with high quality and rugged hardware that enables safe landings, the division is looking ahead to what the next 80 years hold. That’s why the division, on behalf of its customers, is dedicating itself to ongoing improvement by employing advanced engineering analytics, standardized design and development processes, project management excellence, lean principles, and supply chain enhancements. All to build high-performance ̶and competitive advantage ̶ into every Aircraft Wheel & Brake product.
Moving forward, AWBD is devoting research and development resources to keep pace with the ever-changing aviation industry in order to produce affordable, light-weight, state-of-the-art products that provide value, and reduce the overall cost of operations for our customers in the military and commercial market segments.
To learn more about our aircraft wheels, brakes, and braking systems, please visit our division homepage at parker.com/cleveland.
This post was contributed by Sandi Schickel, eBusiness manager for Parker Aerospace’s Aircraft Wheel & Brake Division.