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An aircraft is a vehicle
that is able to fly
by gaining support from the air
. It counters the force of gravity by using either static lift
or by using the dynamic lift
of an airfoil
, or in a few cases the downward thrust
from jet engine
s. Common examples of aircraft include airplane
s (including blimp
and hot air balloon
The human activity that surrounds aircraft is called ''aviation
''. The science of aviation, including designing and building aircraft, is called ''aeronautics
aircraft are flown by an onboard pilot
, but unmanned aerial vehicle
s may be remotely controlled or self-controlled by onboard computers
. Aircraft may be classified by different criteria, such as lift type, aircraft propulsion
, usage and others.
Flying model craft and stories of manned flight
go back many centuries; however, the first manned ascent — and safe descent — in modern times took place by larger hot-air balloons developed in the 18th century. Each of the two World Wars
led to great technical advances. Consequently, the history of aircraft can be divided into five eras:
* Pioneers of flight
, from the earliest experiments to 1914.
* First World War
, 1914 to 1918.
* Aviation between the World Wars
, 1918 to 1939.
* Second World War
, 1939 to 1945.
* Postwar era
, also called the Jet Age
, 1945 to the present day.
Methods of lift
Lighter than air – aerostats
s use buoyancy
to float in the air in much the same way that ships float on the water. They are characterized by one or more large cells or canopies, filled with a relatively low-density gas such as helium
, or hot air
, which is less dense than the surrounding air. When the weight of this is added to the weight of the aircraft structure, it adds up to the same weight as the air that the craft displaces.
Small hot-air balloons, called sky lantern
s, were first invented in ancient China prior to the 3rd century BC and used primarily in cultural celebrations, and were only the second type of aircraft to fly, the first being kite
s, which were first invented in ancient China over two thousand years ago. (See Han Dynasty
was originally any aerostat, while the term airship
was used for large, powered aircraft designs — usually fixed-wing. In 1919 Frederick Handley Page
was reported as referring to "ships of the air," with smaller passenger types as "Air yachts." In the 1930s, large intercontinental flying boats were also sometimes referred to as "ships of the air" or "flying-ships". — though none had yet been built. The advent of powered balloons, called dirigible balloons, and later of rigid hulls allowing a great increase in size, began to change the way these words were used. Huge powered aerostats, characterized by a rigid
outer framework and separate aerodynamic skin surrounding the gas bags, were produced, the Zeppelin
s being the largest and most famous. There were still no fixed-wing aircraft or non-rigid balloons large enough to be called airships, so "airship" came to be synonymous with these aircraft. Then several accidents, such as the Hindenburg disaster
in 1937, led to the demise of these airships. Nowadays a "balloon" is an unpowered aerostat and an "airship" is a powered one.
A powered, steerable aerostat is called a ''dirigible
''. Sometimes this term is applied only to non-rigid balloons, and sometimes ''dirigible balloon'' is regarded as the definition of an airship (which may then be rigid or non-rigid). Non-rigid dirigibles are characterized by a moderately aerodynamic gasbag with stabilizing fins at the back. These soon became known as ''blimp
s''. During World War II
, this shape was widely adopted for tethered balloons
; in windy weather, this both reduces the strain on the tether and stabilizes the balloon. The nickname ''blimp'' was adopted along with the shape. In modern times, any small dirigible or airship is called a blimp, though a blimp may be unpowered as well as powered.
Heavier-than-air – aerodynes
Heavier-than-air aircraft, such as airplane
s, must find some way to push air or gas downwards so that a reaction occurs (by Newton's laws of motion) to push the aircraft upwards. This dynamic movement through the air is the origin of the term ''aerodyne''. There are two ways to produce dynamic upthrust — aerodynamic lift
, and powered lift
in the form of engine thrust.
Aerodynamic lift involving wing
s is the most common, with fixed-wing aircraft
being kept in the air by the forward movement of wings, and rotorcraft
by spinning wing-shaped rotors sometimes called rotary wings. A wing is a flat, horizontal surface, usually shaped in cross-section as an aerofoil
. To fly, air must flow over the wing and generate lift
. A ''flexible wing'' is a wing made of fabric or thin sheet material, often stretched over a rigid frame. A ''kite
'' is tethered to the ground and relies on the speed of the wind over its wings, which may be flexible or rigid, fixed, or rotary.
With powered lift, the aircraft directs its engine thrust vertically
aircraft, such as the Harrier Jump Jet
and Lockheed Martin F-35B
take off and land vertically using powered lift and transfer to aerodynamic lift in steady flight.
A pure rocket
is not usually regarded as an aerodyne because it does not depend on the air for its lift (and can even fly into space); however, many aerodynamic lift vehicles have been powered or assisted by rocket motors. Rocket-powered missiles that obtain aerodynamic lift at very high speed due to airflow over their bodies are a marginal case.
The forerunner of the fixed-wing aircraft is the kite
. Whereas a fixed-wing aircraft relies on its forward speed to create airflow over the wings, a kite is tethered to the ground and relies on the wind
blowing over its wings to provide lift. Kites were the first kind of aircraft to fly and were invented in China
around 500 BC. Much aerodynamic research was done with kites before test aircraft, wind tunnel
s, and computer modelling programs became available.
The first heavier-than-air craft capable of controlled free-flight were gliders
. A glider designed by George Cayley
carried out the first true manned, controlled flight in 1853.
The practical, powered, fixed-wing aircraft (the airplane
or aeroplane) was invented by Wilbur and Orville Wright
. Besides the method of propulsion
, fixed-wing aircraft are in general characterized by their wing configuration
. The most important wing characteristics are:
* Number of wings — monoplane
* Wing support — Braced or cantilever, rigid, or flexible.
* Wing planform — including aspect ratio
, angle of sweep
, and any variations along the span (including the important class of delta wing
* Location of the horizontal stabilizer, if any.
* Dihedral angle
— positive, zero, or negative (anhedral).
A variable geometry
aircraft can change its wing configuration during flight.
A ''flying wing
'' has no fuselage, though it may have small blisters or pods. The opposite of this is a ''lifting body
'', which has no wings, though it may have small stabilizing and control surfaces.
vehicles are not considered aircraft. They "fly" efficiently close to the surface of the ground or water, like conventional aircraft during takeoff. An example is the Russian ekranoplan (nicknamed the "Caspian Sea Monster"). Man-powered aircraft
also rely on ground effect
to remain airborne with minimal pilot power, but this is only because they are so underpowered—in fact, the airframe is capable of flying higher.
Rotorcraft, or rotary-wing aircraft, use a spinning rotor with aerofoil section blades (a ''rotary wing'') to provide lift. Types include helicopter
s, and various hybrids such as gyrodyne
s and compound rotorcraft.
s'' have a rotor turned by an engine-driven shaft. The rotor pushes air downward to create lift. By tilting the rotor forward, the downward flow is tilted backward, producing thrust for forward flight. Some helicopters have more than one rotor and a few have rotors turned by gas jets at the tips.
s'' have unpowered rotors, with a separate power plant to provide thrust. The rotor is tilted backward. As the autogyro moves forward, air blows upward across the rotor, making it spin. This spinning increases the speed of airflow over the rotor, to provide lift. Rotor kite
s are unpowered autogyros, which are towed to give them forward speed or tethered to a static anchor in high-wind for kited flight.
s'' rotate their wings about a horizontal axis.
''Compound rotorcraft'' have wings that provide some or all of the lift in forward flight. They are nowadays classified as ''powered lift
'' types and not as rotorcraft. ''Tiltrotor
'' aircraft (such as the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey
, and coleopter
aircraft have their rotors/propellers
horizontal for vertical flight and vertical for forward flight.
Other methods of lift
* A ''lifting body
'' is an aircraft body shaped to produce lift. If there are any wings, they are too small to provide significant lift and are used only for stability and control. Lifting bodies are not efficient: they suffer from high drag, and must also travel at high speed to generate enough lift to fly. Many of the research prototypes, such as the Martin Marietta X-24
, which led up to the Space Shuttle
, were lifting bodies, though the Space Shuttle is not, and some supersonic missile
s obtain lift from the airflow over a tubular body.
* ''Powered lift
'' types rely on engine-derived lift for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL
). Most types transition to fixed-wing lift for horizontal flight. Classes of powered lift types include VTOL
jet aircraft (such as the Harrier Jump Jet
) and tiltrotor
s, such as the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey
, among others. A few experimental designs rely entirely on engine thrust to provide lift throughout the whole flight, including personal fan-lift hover platforms and jetpacks. VTOL
research designs include the Rolls-Royce Thrust Measuring Rig
* The ''Flettner airplane
'' uses a rotating cylinder in place of a fixed wing, obtaining lift from the Magnus effect
* The ''ornithopter
'' obtains thrust by flapping its wings.
Scale, sizes and speeds
The smallest aircraft are toys/recreational items, and even smaller, nano-aircraft
The largest aircraft by dimensions and volume (as of 2016) is the long British Airlander 10
, a hybrid blimp, with helicopter and fixed-wing features, and reportedly capable of speeds up to , and an airborne endurance of two weeks with a payload of up to .
["World's largest aircraft the Airlander makes maiden flight in UK,"](_blank)
16 August 2016, London 'Daily Telegraph' via Telegraph.co.uk, retrieved 22 November 2016.
[Airlander 10, the world's largest aircraft, takes off for the first time,"19 August 2016, CBS News(TV) retrieved 22 November 2016.] [Kottasova, Ivan]
"The world's largest aircraft crashes after 2nd test flight"
, 24 August 2016, ''CNN Tech'' on CNN, the Cable News Network, retrieved 22 November 2016.
The largest aircraft by weight and largest regular fixed-wing aircraft ever built, , is the Antonov An-225 ''Mriya''
. That Ukrainian-built six-engine Russian transport of the 1980s is long, with an wingspan. It holds the world payload record, after transporting of goods, and has recently flown loads commercially. With a maximum loaded weight of , it is also the heaviest aircraft built to date. It can cruise at .
["Watch the world's biggest plane land in Australia,"](_blank)
16 May 2016, Fox News, retrieved 22 November 2016.
"World's biggest airplane lands at Bush airport,"
Updated 18 November 2016, ''Houston Chonicle'' / Chron.com, retrieved 22 November 2016.
"The World's Largest Aircraft Might Lose its Title to a Blimp,"
18 September 2015, ''Smart News'', Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., retrieved 22 November 2016.
["Ask Us – Largest Plane in the World,"](_blank)
Aerospaceweb.org, retrieved 22 November 2016.
The largest military airplanes are the Ukrainian/Russian Antonov An-124 ''Ruslan''
(world's second-largest airplane, also used as a civilian transport),
["World's Second Largest Aircraft,"](_blank)
28 July 2013, NASA, retrieved 22 November 2016.
and American Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
transport, weighing, loaded, over .
[Loftin, Laurence K., Jr.]
, in Chapter 13, "Jet Transports," in Part II, "The Jet Age," in ''Quest for Performance: The Evolution of Modern Aircraft'', NASA SP-468, 1985, Scientific and Technical Information Branch, NASA, Washington, D.C., Updated: 6 August 2004, retrieved 22 November 2016.
The 8-engine, piston/propeller Hughes H-4 ''Hercules''
"Spruce Goose" — an American World War II
wooden flying boat transport with a greater wingspan (94m/260ft) than any current aircraft and a tail height equal to the tallest (Airbus A380-800 at 24.1m/78ft) — flew only one short hop in the late 1940s and never flew out of ground effect
The largest civilian airplanes, apart from the above-noted An-225 and An-124, are the Airbus Beluga
cargo transport derivative of the Airbus A300
jet airliner, the Boeing Dreamlifter
cargo transport derivative of the Boeing 747
jet airliner/transport (the 747-200B was, at its creation in the 1960s, the heaviest aircraft ever built, with a maximum weight of over ),
and the double-decker Airbus A380
"super-jumbo" jet airliner (the world's largest passenger airliner).
["Airbus reviews A380 schedule,"](_blank)
29 April 2008, ''The New York Times'', retrieved 22 November 2016.
The fastest recorded powered aircraft flight and fastest recorded aircraft flight of an air-breathing powered aircraft was of the NASA X-43
A ''Pegasus'', a scramjet
, lifting body
experimental research aircraft, at Mach
9.6, exactly . The X-43A set that new mark, and broke its own world record of Mach 6.3, exactly , set in March 2004, on its third and final flight on 16 November 2004.
["Hypersonic X-43A Takes Flight.htm,"](_blank)
NASA retrieved November 2016.
["Fastest aircraft, air-breathing engine,"](_blank)
Guinness World Records, retrieved 2 December 2016.
Prior to the X-43A, the fastest recorded powered airplane flight (and still the record for the fastest manned, powered airplane / fastest manned, non-spacecraft aircraft) was of the North American X-15A-2
, rocket-powered airplane at Mach 6.72, or , on 3 October 1967. On one flight it reached an altitude of .
"Ask Us – Aircraft Speed Records,"
22 April 2001, Aerospaceweb.org, retrieved 22 November 2016.
["Fastest speed in a non-spacecraft aircraft,"](_blank)
Guinness World Records, retrieved 2 December 2016.
"Fastest Airplanes: Top Performers in Their Class,"
17 September 2014, ''Flying'', retrieved 3 December 2016
The fastest known, production aircraft (other than rockets and missiles) currently or formerly operational (as of 2016) are:
* The fastest fixed-wing aircraft, and fastest glider, is the Space Shuttle
, a rocket-glider hybrid, which has re-entered the atmosphere as a fixed-wing glider at more than Mach 25, equal to .
[Benson, Tom, ed.]
"Speed Regimes: Hypersonic Re-Entry,"
Glenn Research Center, NASA, retrieved 22 November 2016.
* The fastest military airplane ever built: Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
, a U.S. reconnaissance
jet fixed-wing aircraft, known to fly beyond Mach 3.3, equal to . On 28 July 1976, an SR-71 set the record for the fastest and highest-flying operational aircraft with an absolute speed record of and an absolute altitude record of . At its retirement in the January 1990, it was the fastest air-breathing aircraft / fastest jet aircraft in the world, a record still standing .
display notes, 29 May 2015, National Museum of the United States Air Force retrieved 2 December 2016
[Trujillo, Staff Sgt. Robert M]
"SR-71 Blackbird: Gone but not forgotten,"
26 January 2016, 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs, U.S. Air Force, retrieved 2 December 2016
["Absolute speed record still stands 40 years later," 27 July 2016 ''General Aviation News'', retrieved 22 November 2016.] [Woolen, Angela]
"SR-71 pilots, crew relive absolute speed record,"
9 August 2016, 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs, United States Air Force, retrieved 2 December 2016
:Note: Some sources refer to the above-mentioned X-15 as the "fastest military airplane" because it was partly a project of the U.S. Navy and Air Force; however, the X-15 was not used in non-experimental actual military operations.
* The fastest current military aircraft are the Soviet/Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25
— capable of Mach 3.2, equal to , at the expense of engine damage, or Mach 2.83, equal to , normally — and the Russian Mikoyan MiG-31
E (also capable of Mach 2.83 normally). Both are fighter-interceptor jet airplanes, in active operations as of 2016.
Bender, Jeremy and Amanda Macias]
"The 9 fastest piloted planes in the world,"
18 September 2015, ''Business Insider'', retrieved 3 December 2016
["Fast and furious — the world's fastest military aircraft,"](_blank)
''Airforce Technology'', retrieved 3 December 2016
[The Five Fastest Military Jets Ever Made","](_blank)
2016, Bloomberg, retrieved 3 December 2016
* The fastest civilian airplane ever built, and fastest passenger airliner ever built: the briefly operated Tupolev Tu-144
supersonic jet airliner (Mach 2.35, 1,600 mph, 2,587 km/h), which was believed to cruise at about Mach 2.2. The Tu-144 (officially operated from 1968 to 1978, ending after two crashes of the small fleet) was outlived by its rival, the ''Concorde
'' (Mach 2.23), a French/British supersonic airliner, known to cruise at Mach 2.02 (1.450 mph, 2,333 kmh at cruising altitude), operating from 1976 until the small Concorde fleet was grounded permanently in 2003, following the crash of one in the early 2000s.
["Fastest aircraft, airliner,"](_blank)
Guinness World Records, retrieved 2 December. 2016.
* The fastest civilian airplane currently flying: the Cessna Citation X
, an American business jet, capable of Mach 0.935, or . Its rival, the American Gulfstream G650
business jet, can reach Mach 0.925, or
["Cessna rolls out first production unit of new Citation X,"](_blank)
15 April 2013, ''Wichita Business Journal'', retrieved 22 November 2016.
* The fastest airliner currently flying is the Boeing 747
, quoted as being capable of cruising over Mach 0.885, . Previously, the fastest were the troubled, short-lived Russian (Soviet Union) Tupolev Tu-144
SST (Mach 2.35; equal to ) and the French/British ''Concorde'', with a maximum speed of Mach 2.23 or and a normal cruising speed of Mach 2 or .
["Ask Us – Fastest Airliner and Area Rule,"](_blank)
Aerospaceweb.org, retrieved 22 November 2016.
Before them, the Convair 990 Coronado
jet airliner of the 1960s flew at over .
are heavier-than-air aircraft that do not employ propulsion once airborne. Take-off may be by launching forward and downward from a high location, or by pulling into the air on a tow-line, either by a ground-based winch or vehicle, or by a powered "tug" aircraft. For a glider to maintain its forward air speed and lift, it must descend in relation to the air (but not necessarily in relation to the ground). Many gliders can "soar", ''i.e.'', gain height from updrafts such as thermal currents. The first practical, controllable example was designed and built by the British scientist and pioneer George Cayley
, whom many recognise as the first aeronautical engineer. Common examples of gliders are sailplanes
, hang gliders
drift with the wind, though normally the pilot can control the altitude, either by heating the air or by releasing ballast, giving some directional control (since the wind direction changes with altitude). A wing-shaped hybrid balloon can glide directionally when rising or falling; but a spherically shaped balloon does not have such directional control.
s are aircraft that are tethered to the ground or other object (fixed or mobile) that maintains tension in the tether or kite line
; they rely on virtual or real wind blowing over and under them to generate lift and drag. Kytoon
s are balloon-kite hybrids that are shaped and tethered to obtain kiting deflections, and can be lighter-than-air, neutrally buoyant, or heavier-than-air.
Powered aircraft have one or more onboard sources of mechanical power, typically aircraft engine
s although rubber and manpower have also been used. Most aircraft engines are either lightweight reciprocating engine
s or gas turbine
s. Engine fuel is stored in tanks, usually in the wings but larger aircraft also have additional fuel tank
s in the fuselage
use one or more propellers
(airscrews) to create thrust in a forward direction. The propeller is usually mounted in front of the power source in ''tractor configuration
'' but can be mounted behind in ''pusher configuration
''. Variations of propeller layout include ''contra-rotating propellers
'' and ''ducted fan
Many kinds of power plant have been used to drive propellers. Early airships used man power or steam engines
. The more practical internal combustion piston engine
was used for virtually all fixed-wing aircraft until World War II
and is still used in many smaller aircraft. Some types use turbine engines to drive a propeller in the form of a turboprop
. Human-powered flight
has been achieved, but has not become a practical means of transport. Unmanned aircraft and models have also used power sources such as electric motors
and rubber bands.
use airbreathing jet engine
s, which take in air, burn fuel with it in a combustion chamber
, and accelerate the exhaust rearwards to provide thrust.
Different jet engine configurations include the turbojet
, sometimes with the addition of an afterburner
. Those with no rotating turbomachinery include the pulsejet
. These mechanically simple engines produce no thrust when stationary, so the aircraft must be launched to flying speed using a catapult, like the V-1 flying bomb
, or a rocket, for example. Other engine types include the motorjet
and the dual-cycle Pratt & Whitney J58
Compared to engines using propellers, jet engines can provide much higher thrust, higher speeds and, above about , greater efficiency.
They are also much more fuel-efficient than rocket
s. As a consequence nearly all large, high-speed or high-altitude aircraft use jet engines.
Some rotorcraft, such as helicopter
s, have a powered rotary wing or ''rotor'', where the rotor disc can be angled slightly forward so that a proportion of its lift is directed forwards. The rotor may, like a propeller, be powered by a variety of methods such as a piston engine or turbine. Experiments have also used jet nozzles at the rotor blade tips
Other types of powered aircraft
* ''Rocket-powered aircraft
'' have occasionally been experimented with, and the Messerschmitt Me 163 ''Komet''
fighter even saw action in the Second World War. Since then, they have been restricted to research aircraft, such as the North American X-15
, which traveled up into space where air-breathing engines cannot work (rockets carry their own oxidant). Rockets have more often been used as a supplement to the main power plant, typically for the rocket-assisted take off
of heavily loaded aircraft, but also to provide high-speed dash capability in some hybrid designs such as the Saunders-Roe SR.53
* The ''ornithopter
'' obtains thrust by flapping its wings. It has found practical use in a model hawk
used to freeze prey animals into stillness so that they can be captured, and in toy birds.
Design and construction
Aircraft are designed
according to many factors such as customer and manufacturer demand, safety
protocols and physical and economic constraints. For many types of aircraft the design process is regulated by national airworthiness authorities.
The key parts of an aircraft are generally divided into three categories:
* The ''structure'' comprises the main load-bearing elements and associated equipment.
* The ''propulsion system'' (if it is powered) comprises the power source and associated equipment, as described above.
* The ''avionics'' comprise the control, navigation and communication systems, usually electrical in nature.
The approach to structural design varies widely between different types of aircraft. Some, such as paragliders, comprise only flexible materials that act in tension and rely on aerodynamic pressure to hold their shape. A balloon
similarly relies on internal gas pressure, but may have a rigid basket or gondola slung below it to carry its payload. Early aircraft, including airship
s, often employed flexible doped aircraft fabric covering
to give a reasonably smooth aeroshell stretched over a rigid frame. Later aircraft employed semi-monocoque
techniques, where the skin of the aircraft is stiff enough to share much of the flight loads. In a true monocoque design there is no internal structure left. With the recent emphasis on sustainability hemp has picked up some attention, having a way smaller carbon foot print and 10 times stronger than steel, hemp could become the standard of manufacturing in the future.
The key structural parts of an aircraft depend on what type it is.
Lighter-than-air types are characterised by one or more gasbags, typically with a supporting structure of flexible cables or a rigid framework called its hull. Other elements such as engines or a gondola may also be attached to the supporting structure.
Heavier-than-air types are characterised by one or more wings and a central fuselage
. The fuselage typically also carries a tail or empennage
for stability and control, and an undercarriage for takeoff and landing. Engines may be located on the fuselage or wings. On a fixed-wing aircraft
the wings are rigidly attached to the fuselage, while on a rotorcraft
the wings are attached to a rotating vertical shaft. Smaller designs sometimes use flexible materials for part or all of the structure, held in place either by a rigid frame or by air pressure. The fixed parts of the structure comprise the airframe
The avionics comprise the aircraft flight control system
s and related equipment, including the cockpit
instrumentation, navigation, radar
, monitoring, and communications system
The flight envelope of an aircraft refers to its approved design capabilities in terms of airspeed
, load factor
and altitude. The term can also refer to other assessments of aircraft performance such as maneuverability. When an aircraft is abused, for instance by diving it at too-high a speed, it is said to be flown ''outside the envelope'', something considered foolhardy since it has been taken beyond the design limits which have been established by the manufacturer. Going beyond the envelope may have a known outcome such as flutter
or entry to a non-recoverable spin (possible reasons for the boundary).
The range is the distance an aircraft can fly between takeoff
, as limited by the time it can remain airborne.
For a powered aircraft the time limit is determined by the fuel load and rate of consumption.
For an unpowered aircraft, the maximum flight time is limited by factors such as weather conditions and pilot endurance. Many aircraft types are restricted to daylight hours, while balloons are limited by their supply of lifting gas. The range can be seen as the average ground speed multiplied by the maximum time in the air.
The Airbus A350
is now the longest range airliner.
Flight dynamics is the science of air vehicle orientation and control in three dimensions. The three critical flight dynamics parameters are the angles of rotation
around three axes
which pass through the vehicle's center of gravity
, known as ''pitch
,'' and ''yaw
* Roll is a rotation about the longitudinal axis (equivalent to the rolling or heeling
of a ship) giving an up-down movement of the wing tips measured by the roll or bank angle.
* Pitch is a rotation about the sideways horizontal axis giving an up-down movement of the aircraft nose measured by the angle of attack
* Yaw is a rotation about the vertical axis giving a side-to-side movement of the nose known as sideslip.
Flight dynamics is concerned with the stability and control of an aircraft's rotation about each of these axes.
An aircraft that is unstable tends to diverge from its intended flight path and so is difficult to fly. A very stable aircraft tends to stay on its flight path and is difficult to maneuver. Therefore, it is important for any design to achieve the desired degree of stability. Since the widespread use of digital computers, it is increasingly common for designs to be inherently unstable and rely on computerised control systems to provide artificial stability.
A fixed wing is typically unstable in pitch, roll, and yaw. Pitch and yaw stabilities of conventional fixed wing designs require horizontal and vertical stabilisers
[Crane, Dale: ''Dictionary of Aeronautical Terms, third edition'', p. 194. Aviation Supplies & Academics, 1997. ] [Aviation Publishers Co. Limited, ''From the Ground Up'', p. 10 (27th revised edition) ]
which act similarly to the feathers on an arrow.
These stabilizing surfaces allow equilibrium of aerodynamic forces and to stabilise the flight dynamics
of pitch and yaw.
They are usually mounted on the tail section (empennage
), although in the canard
layout, the main aft wing replaces the canard foreplane as pitch stabilizer. Tandem wing
and tailless aircraft
rely on the same general rule to achieve stability, the aft surface being the stabilising one.
A rotary wing is typically unstable in yaw, requiring a vertical stabiliser.
A balloon is typically very stable in pitch and roll due to the way the payload is slung underneath the center of lift.
Flight control surfaces
enable the pilot to control an aircraft's flight attitude
and are usually part of the wing or mounted on, or integral with, the associated stabilizing surface. Their development was a critical advance in the history of aircraft, which had until that point been uncontrollable in flight.
develop control system
s for a vehicle's orientation (attitude) about its center of mass
. The control systems include actuators, which exert forces in various directions, and generate rotational forces or moments
about the aerodynamic center
of the aircraft, and thus rotate the aircraft in pitch, roll, or yaw. For example, a pitching moment
is a vertical force applied at a distance forward or aft from the aerodynamic center of the aircraft, causing the aircraft to pitch up or down. Control systems are also sometimes used to increase or decrease drag, for example to slow the aircraft to a safe speed for landing.
The two main aerodynamic forces acting on any aircraft are lift supporting it in the air and drag
opposing its motion. Control surfaces or other techniques may also be used to affect these forces directly, without inducing any rotation.
Impacts of aircraft use
Aircraft permit long distance, high speed travel
and may be a more fuel efficient
mode of transportation in some circumstances. Aircraft have environmental and climate impacts
beyond fuel efficiency considerations, however. They are also relatively noisy
compared to other forms of travel and high altitude aircraft generate contrail
s, which experimental evidence suggests may alter weather patterns
Uses for aircraft
Aircraft are produced in several different types optimized for various uses; military aircraft
, which includes not just combat types but many types of supporting aircraft, and civil aircraft
, which include all non-military types, experimental and model.
A military aircraft is any aircraft that is operated by a legal or insurrectionary armed service of any type.
Military aircraft can be either combat or non-combat:
* Combat aircraft are aircraft designed to destroy enemy equipment using its own armament.
Combat aircraft divide broadly into fighters
s, with several in-between types, such as fighter-bomber
s and attack aircraft
, including attack helicopter
* Non-combat aircraft are not designed for combat as their primary function, but may carry weapons for self-defense. Non-combat roles include search and rescue, reconnaissance, observation, transport, training, and aerial refueling
. These aircraft are often variants of civil aircraft.
Most military aircraft are powered heavier-than-air types. Other types, such as gliders and balloons, have also been used as military aircraft; for example, balloons were used for observation during the American Civil War
and World War I
, and military glider
s were used during World War II
to land troops.
Civil aircraft divide into ''commercial'' and ''general'' types, however there are some overlaps.
include types designed for scheduled and charter airline flights, carrying passengers, mail
and other cargo
. The larger passenger-carrying types are the airliners, the largest of which are wide-body aircraft
. Some of the smaller types are also used in general aviation
, and some of the larger types are used as VIP aircraft
is a catch-all covering other kinds of private
(where the pilot is not paid for time or expenses) and commercial use, and involving a wide range of aircraft types such as business jets (bizjets)
s and hot air balloon
s to name a few. The vast majority of aircraft today are general aviation types.
An experimental aircraft is one that has not been fully proven in flight, or that carries a Special Airworthiness Certificate
, called an Experimental Certificate in United States parlance. This often implies that the aircraft is testing new aerospace technologies, though the term also refers to amateur-built and kit-built aircraft, many of which are based on proven designs.
A model aircraft is a small unmanned type made to fly for fun, for static display, for aerodynamic research or for other purposes. A scale model
is a replica of some larger design.
* Early flying machines
* Flight altitude record
* List of aircraft
* List of civil aircraft
* List of fighter aircraft
* List of individual aircraft
* List of large aircraft
* List of aviation, aerospace and aeronautical terms
* Aircraft hijacking
* Aircraft spotting
* Air traffic control
* Flying car
* Personal air vehicle
* Powered parachute
The Evolution of Modern Aircraft (NASA)Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
nbsp;— Online collection with a particular focus on history of aircraft and spacecraft
Amazing Early Flying Machines
slideshow by ''Life
Free aviation terms, phrases and jargons
''New Scientist's'' Aviation page