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STRAIGHT-AND-LEVEL FLIGHT

(STEADY STATE FLIGHT PERFORMANCE)


All of the principal items of flight performance involve steady-state flight conditions and
equilibrium of the airplane. For the airplane to remain in steady, level flight equilibrium
must be obtained by a lift equal to the airplane weight and a power plant thrust equal to the
airplane drag. Thus, the airplane drag defines the thrust required to maintain steady, level
flight.
All parts of the airplane that are exposed to the air contribute to the drag, though only the
wings provide lift of any significance. For this reason, and certain others related to it, the
total drag may be divided into two parts: the wing drag (induced) and the drag of everything
but the wings (parasite).
The total power required for flight then can be considered as the sum of induced and
parasite effects; that is, the total drag of the airplane. Parasite drag is the sum of pressure
and friction drag, which is due to the airplanes basic configuration and, as defined, is
independent of lift. Induced drag is the undesirable but unavoidable consequence of the
development of lift.
While the parasite drag predominates at high speed, induced drag predominates at low
speed. For example, if an airplane in a steady flight condition at 100 knots is then accelerated
to 200 knots, the parasite drag becomes four times as great, but the power required to
overcome that drag is eight times the original value. Conversely, when the airplane is
operated in steady, level flight at twice as great a speed, the induced drag is one-fourth the
original value, and the power required to overcome that drag is only one-half the original
value.
The wing or induced drag changes with speed in a very different way, because of the changes
in the angle of attack. Near the stalling speed, the wing is inclined to the relative wind at
nearly the stalling angle, and its drag is very strong. But at cruise flying speed, with the angle
of attack nearly zero, induced drag is minimal.
After attaining cruise speed, the angle of attack changes very little with any further increase
in speed, and the drag of the wing increases in direct proportion to any further increase in
speed. This does not consider the factor of compressibility drag that is involved at speeds
beyond 260 knots.
To sum up these changes, as the speed increases from stalling speed to VNE, the induced
drag decreases and parasite drag increases.
When the airplane is in steady, level flight, the condition of equilibrium must prevail. The un-
accelerated condition of flight is achieved with the airplane trimmed for lift equal to weight
and the power plant set for a thrust to equal the airplane drag.
The maximum level flight speed for the airplane will be obtained when the power or thrust
required equals the maximum power or thrust available from the power plant. The
minimum level flight airspeed is not usually defined by thrust or power requirement since
conditions of stall or stability and control problems generally predominate.