Information About Aircraft


In the broadest sense, the term “aircraft” refers to all types of vehicles that fly within the atmosphere. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in its Federal Aviation Regulations [6], defines an aircraft as “a device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air”. 

Aircraft support their weight with the force derived from either static or dynamic sources. For example, a lighter-than-air balloon supports its weight with static buoyancy, while a heavier-than-air airplane generates aerodynamic lift, which balances its weight, due to the dynamic reaction of air flowing over its wings. 

➽ Introduction Of Aerospace Engineering

Classification of Aircraft

There are many different types of aircraft and a wide variety of ways that one could classify these different types. We could classify the different types of aircraft based on their geometric configuration, the type of propulsion, the mission or function, or other factors. Perhaps, a reasonable first distinction that we can make is between aircraft that are lighter-than-air and those that are heavier-than-air. 

Lighter-than-air aircraft include airships and balloons. We can further subdivide heavier-than aircraft into powered and unpowered aircraft, that is, aircraft with and without one or more propulsive devices or engines. Unpowered, heavier-than-air aircraft include gliders or sailplanes. 

Powered, heavier-than-air aircraft can be subdivided into aeroplanes, rotorcraft, and ornithopters, where the distinction between these different types of aircraft is based on their type of lift production. Aeroplanes have a fixed wing, which produces lift due to the air flowing over it. 

Rotorcraft encompass all heavier-than-air aircraft that generate lift from rotating wings or spinning rotor blades. Rotorcraft can be further divided into autogyro and helicopter. The autogyro has unpowered, free-spinning rotor blades, which require forward motion for lift production, whereas the helicopter has powered rotors that can produce lift even without forward speed. 

Ornithopters use flapping wings to generate both lift and thrust, similar to a bird. Many early would-be inventors of the first heavier-than-air aeroplane attempted to fly this type of flapping wing machine but without describe aircraft in the following sections. We start our discussion of aircraft with the fixed-wing aeroplane.  

The Airplane 

Since most of us have grown up in a time where aeroplanes are commonplace, it's difficult to imagine that we do not know what an aeroplane is “supposed to look like”. However, if we were living in the late 1800s, before the first successful flight of a heavier-than-air machine, we would probably be influenced by nature, and think that aeroplane flight should mimic bird flight. 

Some of the early aviation enthusiasts took this to the extreme, attempting to construct flyable ornithopters. Other early aviation pioneers carefully observed bird flight, trying to understand nature's secrets about flight. 

There are now many variants of what an aeroplane looks like, but there are several common fundamental engineering aspects to heavier-than-air flight that have made it successful. We Will see examples of this in the design and successful flight of the first aeroplane.

The First Airplane

             Unmanned, kite-like gliders from 1901 (left) and 1902 (right) 

At the beginning of this chapter, the iconic photograph of the first controlled, sustained flight of a heavier-than-air, powered aeroplane was presented. This first flight was the culmination of years of hard work by two brothers from Dayton, Ohio: Orville (1871–1948) and Wilbur (1867–1912) Wright. 

The brothers followed a logical and systematic approach in the design, construction, and flight test of their powered aeroplane. They critically reviewed much of the existing technical information and data relevant to aeronautical theory and aircraft design. 

In several important areas, the Wright brothers determined that the state-of-the-art information and data were not adequate or were incorrect, so they performed their own, independent analyses and tests to obtain what they needed. An example of this is the designs of the airfoil shapes for their wings and propellers, which were based on data that they collected using a wind tunnel of their own design. 

They also developed their own aircraft internal combustion engine, with the help of expert machinist, Charlie Taylor. The Wright brothers’ determination to ensure that their aeroplane design was based on sound technical data was fundamental to their success. 

Flight of a Wright Brothers manned glider, October 24, 1902. Note the single vertical rudder on this glider. (Source: O. Wright, 1902, US Library of Congress, PD-old-100.)

The Wright brothers were also methodical and systematic in their approach to flying and flight testing. Between 1900 and 1903, they performed extensive flight testing with gliders of their own design. Starting first with unmanned, kite-like gliders, they systematically progressed to manned glider flights. 

The Wright brothers designed, built, and flew their first manned glider at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1900 with disappointing results. They test-flew another glider design in 1901, but this second manned glider also flew poorly. It was not until their third glider design in 1903 that the Wright brothers were satisfied with how the glider flew. 

These glider design iterations systematically improved the performance and flying qualities of their unpowered aeroplanes and these lessons learned were incorporated into their 1903 powered aeroplane design. The glider flying had another very important purpose, in addition to collecting flight data to improve their designs. 

By flying these many glider flights, the Wright brothers were learning how to fly. They gained extensive piloting experience in how to control their aircraft in the new three-dimensional world of flying. 

They understood that not only must a successful heavier-than-air vehicle lift its own weight, but it must also be controllable. They designed their aircraft to be controllable by the pilot in all three axes, with independent control effectors in pitch, roll, and yaw.

Their aeroplane design had an elevator for pitch control, a rudder for yaw control, and for roll control, they used a scheme of warping or twisting of the wings. The Wright brothers spent a considerable amount of time observing the flight of birds and in particular the flights of buzzards. 

Their observations of bird flight gave them valuable insights into how to control a flying vehicle. They observed that as the birds soared and turned, the shape of their wings changed. 

Realizing that this wing twisting or warping was critical to the roll control of the manoeuvring birds, the Wright brothers incorporated the wing warping concept into their aeroplane designs, and finally into the design of the first successful heavier-than-air aeroplane. 

It is interesting to read the Wright brothers’ description of their invention of a heavier-than-air flying machine in their original patent, as shown below. Note, that they make particular mention of the stability and control aspects of their airplane.

Be it known that we, Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright, citizens of the United States, residing in the city of Dayton, county of Montgomery, and State of Ohio, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Flying-Machines, of which the following is a specification. Our invention relates to that class of flying machines in which the weight is sustained by the reactions resulting when one or more aeroplanes are moved through the air edge-wise at a small angle of incidence, either by the application of mechanical power or by the utilization of the force of gravity. The objects of our invention are to provide means for maintaining or restoring the equilibrium or lateral balance of the apparatus, to provide means for guiding the machine both vertically and horizontally, and to provide a structure combining lightness, strength, convenience of construction, and certain other advantages which will hereinafter appear. 

                                                                                    USpatent 821,393, “Flying-Machine” 

                                                                                         Application filed March 23, 1903 

                                                                                                Patent granted May 22, 1906

The Wright brothers’ successful, first powered aeroplane, the Flyer I, was a canard3 configuration biplane, with a forward-mounted, all-moving horizontal, biplane elevator and an aft-mounted, vertical, twin rudder. 

The airplane structure was a spruce and ash wooden framework, covered with finely woven muslin cotton fabric. The wing bracing wires were 15-gauge bicycle spoke wires. The aeroplane had a single, four-cylinder, gasoline-fueled piston engine, capable of producing about 12 horsepower (8.9 kW). 

Less than half a gallon of gasoline fuel was carried onboard the aeroplane. There was no engine throttle, the pilot could only open or close the fuel line that supplied the engine. The engine drove two contra-rotating, pusher propellers through a chain-drive transmission system. 

The propellers rotated at an average speed of about 350 revolutions per minute (rpm). The 170 lb (77 kg) engine was mounted on the right wing. To counterbalance the engine weight, the pilot was placed on the left wing. Since the typical pilot weight of about 145 lb (66 kg) was less than the engine weight, the right wing was about 4′′ (10 cm) longer than the left. 

Unusual by today’s standards, the pilot lay prone on his stomach, with his hips in a padded wooden cradle, facing towards the front-mounted elevator. The wing-warping roll control and rudder-deflection yaw control were interconnected, such that sliding of the hip cradle sideways caused the wings to warp and the rudders to deflect. 

A wooden lever in the pilot’s left hand controlled the aircraft pitch by changing both the angle of the elevator and the camber or shape of the elevator airfoil section. If the pilot pulled back on the lever, the elevator angle and camber were increased, thereby increasing its lift. If the pilot pushed the lever forward, the elevator angle and camber were decreased, resulting in less elevator lift.

     Selected specifications of the 1903 Wright Flyer I.

The Flyer I used a 60 ft (18.3 m) launch rail for takeoff. The aircraft was restrained, sitting on the rail, until the pilot was ready for takeoff. He then released the restraining rope and the aircraft started its takeoff roll along the rail, riding on two modified bicycle wheel hubs. 

The aircraft had wooden skids for landing on the sandy ground. The Flyer I had a maximum airspeed of about 30 mph(48km/h) and a maximum altitude of about 30 ft(9.0m). 

After winning a coin toss, Wilbur Wright attempted the first flight of the Flyer I on 14 December 1903. The launch rail was placed on an incline, giving the aircraft a downhill, gravity-assisted takeoff roll. 

Taking off in a light wind, Wilbur pulled the Flyer I off the launch rail, but almost immediately stalled the aircraft, causing it to return to Earth in about three seconds. This “powered hop”, with a gravity-assisted takeoff, could not be considered a first, controlled flight of a heavier-than-air aeroplane. 

The aircraft sustained some minor damage, which took three days to repair. On 17 December 1903, it was attempted. Since the winds were blowing at more than 20mph(32.2km/h), the launch trail was placed on level ground and. 

pointed into the wind. At 10:35 am, Orville Wright made the first controlled, powered flight in a heavier-than-air aeroplane, with the flight lasting about 12 seconds, landing 120 ft (37 m) from the point of takeoff. The Wright brothers made four flights that day, with the final flight lasting almost a full minute. 

A summary of the initial flights of Flyer I on 14 and 17 December 1903 is given in Table 1.3. After the successful flights of 17 December, the Wright brothers sent a telegram to their father, telling him about their accomplishment. Soon after the fourth landing, a gust of wind picked up the Flyer I and it tumbled end-over-end across the rough and sandy terrain. 

The Flyer I was destroyed and never flew again. Quite fittingly, a part of the Flyer I would soar again, when a piece of its wing fabric and a piece of wood from one of its propellers were carried inside a spacesuit pocket of Neil Armstrong when he stepped onto the surface of the moon on 20 July 1969.

      Wright brothers’ flights of 14 and 17 December 1903.

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