Aircraft Theory of Flight

in Physics

Before a technician can consider performing maintenance on an aircraft, it is necessary to understand the pieces that make up the aircraft. Names like fuselage, empennage, wing, and so many others, come into play when describing what an airplane is and how it operates. For helicopters, names like main rotor, anti-torque rotor, and autorotation come to mind as a small portion of what needs to be understood about rotorcraft. The study of physics, which includes basic aerodynamics, is a necessary part of understanding why aircraft operate the way they do.

Figure 3-53. Four forces acting on an airplane.

Figure 3-53. Four forces acting on an airplane.

Four Forces of Flight

During flight, there are four forces acting on an airplane. These forces are lift, weight, thrust, and drag. [Figure 3-53] Lift is the upward force created by the wing, weight is the pull of gravity on the airplane’s mass, thrust is the force created by the airplane’s propeller or turbine engine, and drag is the friction caused by the air flowing around the airplane.

All four of these forces are measured in pounds. Any time the forces are not in balance, something about the airplane’s condition is changing. The possibilities are as follows:

  1. When an airplane is accelerating, it has more thrust than drag.
  2. When an airplane is decelerating, it has less thrust than drag.
  3. When an airplane is at a constant velocity, thrust and drag are equal.
  4. When an airplane is climbing, it has more lift than weight.
  5. When an airplane is descending, it has more weight than lift.
  6. When an airplane is at a constant altitude, lift and weight are equal.