Friday, September 9, 2011


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An Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger airliner

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"Flying machine" redirects here. For other uses, see Flying machine (disambiguation).

Aircraft are vehicles that are able to fly by gaining support from the air, or, in general, the atmosphere of a planet. An aircraft 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 engines.[1]
Although rockets and missiles also travel through the atmosphere, most are not considered aircraft because they do not have wings and rely on rocket thrust as the primary means of lift.
The human activity that surrounds aircraft is called aviation. Manned aircraft are flown by an onboard pilot. Unmanned aerial vehicles may be remotely controlled or self-controlled by onboard computers. Aircraft may be classified by different criteria, such as lift type, propulsion, usage, and others.
Main article: Aviation history
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 hot-air balloon in the 18th century. Each of the two World Wars led to great technical advances. Consequently the history of aircraft development can be divided into five eras:
§  Pioneers of flight, from the earliest experiments to 1913.
§  First World War, 1914 to 1918.
§  Inter-war, sometimes called the Golden Age, 1919 to 1938.
§  Second World War, 1939 to 1945.
§  Postwar era, also called the jet age, 1946 to the present day.
Methods of lift
Lighter than air – aerostats
Aerostats 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 gasbags or canopies, filled with a relatively low-density gas such as helium, hydrogen, 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 lanterns date back to the 3rd century BC, and were only the second type of aircraft to fly, the first being kites.
A balloon was originally any aerostat, while the term airship was used for large, powered aircraft designs – usually fixed-wing[citation needed] – 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 Zeppelins 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, whilst 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 blimps. During the Second World War, 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 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 wings 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 downward. V/STOL aircraft, such as the Harrier Jump Jet and 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.
NASA test aircraft
 The Airbus A380-800 (largest airliner), the Boeing 747-8, theAntonov An-225 (aircraft with the greatest payload) and the Hughes H-4 "Spruce Goose" (aircraft with greatest wingspan).
Airplanes or aeroplanes are technically called fixed-wing aircraft.
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 tunnels, and computer modelling programs became available.
The first heavier-than-air craft capable of controlled free-flight were gliders. A glider designed by Cayley carried out the first true manned, controlled flight in 1853.
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, biplane, etc.
§  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 wings).
§  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 stabilising and control surfaces.
Most fixed-wing aircraft feature a tail unit or empennage incorporating vertical, and often horizontal, stabilising surfaces.
Some people consider wing-in-ground-effect vehicles to be fixed-wing aircraft. Others do not. These craft "fly" close to the surface of the ground or water. An example is the Russian ekranoplan (nicknamed the "Caspian Sea Monster"). Man-powered aircraft also rely on ground effect to remain airborne, but this is only because they are so underpowered — in theory, the airframe is capable of flying much higher.
An autogyro.
Main article: Rotorcraft
Rotorcraft, or rotary-wing aircraft, use a spinning rotor with aerofoil section blades (a rotary wing) to provide lift. Types include helicopters, autogyros, and various hybrids such as gyrodynes and compound rotorcraft.
Helicopters 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.
Autogyros 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 kites are unpowered autogyros, which are towed to give them forward speed or tethered to a static anchor in high-wind for kited flight.
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 V-22 Osprey), tiltwing, tailsitter, and coleopter aircraft have their rotors/propellers horizontal for vertical flight and vertical for forward flight.
Other methods of lift
X-24B lifting body, specialized glider
§  A lifting body is the opposite of a flying wing. In this configuration the aircraft body is 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 shuttle itself is not), and some supersonic missiles obtain lift from the airflow over a tubular body. The flat bodies of recent jet fighters also produce lift, as in the F-14 Tomcat's "pancake".
§  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 tiltrotors (such as theV-22 Osprey), among others.
Main article: Unpowered aircraft
Gliders 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). Some gliders can 'soar' - 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.[2] Common examples of gliders are sailplanes, hang gliders and paragliders.
Balloons 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.
Kites are aircraft[3] 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. Kytoons 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.
[edit]Powered aircraft
Main article: Powered aircraft
[edit]Propeller aircraft
A turboprop-engined DeHavilland Twin Otter adapted as a floatplane
Main article: Propeller aircraft
A propeller or airscrew spins on an axis aligned in the direction of travel 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 propellers include contra-rotating propellers and ducted fans.
Many kinds of power plant have been used to drive propellers. Early airships used man power and steam-power. The more practical internal combustion piston engine was the power source used for virtually all fixed-wing aircraft until World War II and is still used in many smaller aircraft. Many larger aircraft use turbine engines to drive a propeller in the form of a turboprop or propfan. Human-powered heavier-than-air flight has been achieved, but has not become a practical means of transport. Unmanned aircraft and models have also used other power sources such as solar-powered electric motors and rubber bands.
[edit]Jet aircraft
Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor
Main article: Jet aircraft
Airbreathing jet engines take in air, burn fuel with it in a combustion chamber, and accelerate the exhaust rearwards at high speed to provide thrust. Turbojet and turbofan engines use a spinning turbine to drive one or more fans, which provide thrust. Anafterburner may be used to inject extra fuel into the hot exhaust, especially on military "fast jets".
Jet engines can provide much higher thrust than propellers, and are efficient at higher altitudes, being able to operate above 40,000 ft (12,000 m). They are also much more fuel-efficient at normal flight speeds than rockets. As a consequence, nearly all high-speed and high-altitude aircraft use jet engines.
Use of a turbine is not absolutely necessary: Other designs include the pulse jet and ramjet. These mechanically simple designs cannot work when stationary, so the aircraft must be launched to flying speed by some other method. Other variants have also been used, including the motorjet and hybrids such as the Pratt & Whitney J58, which can convert between turbojet and ramjet operation.
Main article: Rotorcraft
A helicopter obtains lift from a powered rotary wing or rotor, which acts much like an upward-pointing propeller. Forward propulsion is provided by angling the rotor disc slightly forward so that a proportion of its lift is directed forward to provide thrust. 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 rotor blade tips.
[edit]Other methods of propulsion
§  Rocket-powered aircraft have occasionally been experimented with, and the Messerschmitt 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 powerplant, 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.
[edit]General construction
The parts of an aircraft are generally divided into three categories:
§  The airframe comprises the mechanical structure and associated equipment.
§  The propulsion system comprises the engine or engines and associated equipment.
§  The avionics comprise the electrical flight control and communication systems.
Airframe diagram for a AgustaWestland AW101 helicopter
Main article: Airframe
The airframe of an aircraft is its mechanical structure,[4] which is typically considered to exclude the propulsion system. Airframe design is a field of engineering that combines aerodynamics, materials technology, and manufacturing methods to achieve balances of performance, reliability, and cost.
The main parts of the airframe are the fuselage, wing and tail.
Fuselage of a Boeing 737 shown in brown.
The fuselage is an aircraft's main body section containing the crew cockpit or flight deck, and any passenger cabin or cargo hold. In single- and twin-engine aircraft, it will often also contain the engine or engines. The fuselage also serves to position control and stabilization surfaces in specific relationships to lifting surfaces, required for aircraft stability and maneuverability.
The wings of an aircraft produce lift. Many different styles and arrangements of wings have been used on heavier-than-air aircraft, and some lighter-than-air craft also have wings. Most early fixed-wing aircraft were biplanes, having wings stacked one above the other. Most types nowadays are monoplanes, having one wing each side. Wings also vary greatly in their shape viewed from above.
[edit]Control surfaces
Flight control surfaces allow a pilot to control an aircraft's flight attitude.
Development of an effective set of flight controls was a critical advance in the development of aircraft. Early efforts at fixed-wing aircraft design succeeded in generating sufficient lift to get the aircraft off the ground, but, once aloft, the aircraft proved uncontrollable, often with disastrous results. The development of effective flight controls is what allowed stable flight.
The undercarriage or landing gear, is the structure that supports an aircraft on the ground and allows it to taxi, take off, and land. In the typical undercarriage, wheels are used, but skids, floats, or a combination of these and other elements can be used, depending on the surface. Many aircraft have undercarriage that retracts into the wings and/or fuselage to decrease drag during flight.
Flying boats are supported on water by their fuselage and hence have no undercarriage, except for amphibians, which have retractable undercarriage allowing them to take off from and alight on both land and water.
Main article: aircraft engine
Powered aircraft have one or more engines. Most aircraft engines are either lightweight piston engines or gas turbines. The fuel is usually kept in tanks around the vehicle. Most aircraft store the fuel predominantly in the wings, but may have additional fuel tanks elsewhere.
Main article: Avionics
The avionics comprise the flight control systems and other electronic equipment, including the cockpit instrumentation, radar, and communication systems.
[edit]Flight envelope
Main article: Flight envelope
The flight envelope of an aircraft refers to its capabilities in terms of airspeed and load factor or altitude.[5][6] The term can also refer to other measurements such as maneuverability. When a plane is pushed, for instance by diving it at high speeds, it is said to be flown "outside the envelope", something considered unsafe.
Main article: range (aircraft)
The Boeing 777-200LR is the longest-range airliner, capable of flights of more than halfway around the world.
The maximal total range is the distance an aircraft can fly between takeoff and landing, as limited by fuel capacity in powered aircraft, or cross-country speed and environmental conditions in unpowered aircraft. The range can be seen as the cross-country ground speed multiplied by the maximum time in the air.
Ferry range means the maximum range an aircraft can fly. This usually means maximum fuel load, optionally with extra fuel tanks and minimum equipment. It refers to transport of aircraft for use on remote location.
The combat range is the maximum range an aircraft can fly when carrying ordnance. The combat radius is somewhat less.
The fuel time limit for powered aircraft is fixed by the fuel load and rate of consumption. For unpowered aircraft, the maximum flight time is limited by available daylight hours, weather conditions, and pilot endurance.
[edit]Flight dynamics
Flight dynamics with text.png
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 in three dimensions about the vehicle's center of mass, known as pitch, roll, and yaw (quite different from their use as Tait-Bryan angles).
§  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.
A fixed-wing aircraft increases or decreases the lift generated by the wings when it pitches, respectively, nose up or down by increasing or decreasing the angle of attack. A fixed-wing aircraft usually "banks" to change the horizontal direction of flight. To maintain direction, efficiency, and controllability of flight the sideslip angle must remain near zero, though there are instances when an aircraft may be deliberately "sideslipped," for example, a slip in a fixed-wing aircraft.
Besides lift, the other main aerodynamic force on an aircraft is drag opposing its motion through the air. An aircraft is usually streamlined from nose to tail to reduce drag.
Flight control
Aerospace engineers develop control systems 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.
[edit]Areas of use
The major distinction in aircraft types is between military aircraft, which includes not just combat types but many types of supporting aircraft, and civil aircraft, which include all non-military types.
Boeing B-17E in flight. The Allies of World War II lost 160,000 airmen and 33,700 planes during the air war over Europe.[7]
Main article: Military aircraft
A military aircraft is any fixed-wing or rotary-wing aircraft that is operated by a legal or insurrectionary armed service of any type.[8] Military aircraft can be either combat or non-combat:
§  Combat aircraft are aircraft designed to destroy enemy equipment using its own armament.[8] Combat aircraft divide broadly into fighters and bombers, with several in-between types such as fighter-bombers and ground-attack aircraft (including attack helicopters).
§  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 such as the Douglas DC-3 airliner.
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 gliders were used during World War II to land troops.
Main article: Civil aviation
Civil aircraft divide into commercial and general types, however there are some overlaps.
Commercial aircraft include types designed for scheduled and charter airline flights, carrying both passengers and cargo. The larger passenger-carrying types are often referred to as 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.
General aviation 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), trainers, homebuilt, aerobatic types, racers,gliders, warbirds, firefighters, medical transports, and cargo transports, to name a few. The vast majority of aircraft today are general aviation types.
Experimental aircraft are one-off specials, built to explore some aspect of aircraft design and with no other useful purpose. The Bell X-1 rocket plane, which first broke the sound barrier in level flight, is a famous example.
A model aircraft, weighing six grams.
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.