Stress – Tension, Compression and Torsion

in Physics

Whenever a machine is in operation, be it a simple machine like a lever or a screw, or a more complex machine like an aircraft piston engine or a hydraulically operated landing gear, the parts and pieces of that machine will experience something called stress. Whenever an external force is applied to an object, like a weight pushing on the end of a lever, a reaction will occur inside the object which is known as stress. Stress is typically measured in pounds per square foot or pounds per square inch (psi).

An external force acting on an object causes the stress to manifest itself in one of five forms, or combination of those five. The five forms are tension, compression, torsion, bending, and shear.


Tension is a force that tries to pull an object apart. In the block and tackle system discussed earlier in this chapter, the upper block that housed the two fixed pulleys was secured to an overhead beam. The movable lower block and its two pulleys were hanging by ropes, and the weight was hanging below the entire assembly. The weight being lifted would cause the ropes and the blocks to be under tension. The weight is literally trying to pull the rope apart, and ultimately would cause the rope to break if the weight was too great.


Compression is a force that tries to crush an object. An excellent example of compression is when a sheet metal airplane is assembled using the fastener known as a rivet. The rivet passes through a hole drilled in the pieces of aluminum, and then a rivet gun on one side and a bucking bar on the other apply a force. This applied force tries to crush the rivet and makes it expand to fill the hole and securely hold the aluminum pieces together. [Figure 3-19]

Figure 3-19. A rivet fastener and compression.

Figure 3-19. A rivet fastener and compression.


Torsion is the stress an object experiences when it is twisted, which is what happens when torque is applied to a shaft. Torsion is actually made up of two other stresses: tension and compression. When a shaft is twisted, tension is experienced at a diagonal to the shaft and compression acts 90 degrees to the tension. [Figure 3-20]

Figure 3-20. Torsion on a rotating shaft, made up of tension and compression.

Figure 3-20. Torsion on a rotating shaft, made up of tension and compression.

The turbine shaft on a turbofan engine, which connects to the compressor in order to drive it, is under a torsion stress. The turbine blades extract energy from the high velocity air as a force in pounds. This force in pounds acts along the length from the blades to the center of the shaft, and creates the torque that causes rotation. [Figure 3-21]

Figure 3-21. Turbofan engine, torque creating torsion in the shaft.

Figure 3-21. Turbofan engine, torque creating torsion in the shaft.

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