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Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology

Theory of Flight and Control


Prepared by Mohammad Anuar Yusof


Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology

Theory of Flight and Control

Generation of Lift and Drag


Drag is the force of resistance experienced by a body moving through the air. It is the resistance
to motion through a fluid, i.e. an aircraft in flight. The drag experienced by an aircraft in flight
arises in several different ways.
There are two basic types of drag: parasite or profile drag and induced drag. The first is called
parasite/ profile drag because it in no way functions to aid flight, while the second, induced
drag, is a result of an airfoil developing lift.


Parasite /Profile Drag

Parasite/profile drag is comprised of all the forces that work to slow an aircrafts movement. As
the term parasite or profile implies, it is the drag that is not associated with the production of
lift. This includes the displacement of the air by the aircraft, turbulence generated in the
airstream, or a hindrance of air moving over the surface of the aircraft and airfoil.
Parasite/profile drag increases as the square of speed. There are three types of parasite/profile
drag: form drag, interference drag, and skin friction drag.


Form Drag
Form drag is the portion of parasite/profile drag generated by the aircraft due to its shape and
airflow around it. Examples include the engine cowlings, antennas, and the aerodynamic shape
of other components. When the air has to separate to move around a moving aircraft and its
components, it eventually rejoins after passing the body. How quickly and smoothly it rejoins is
representative of the resistance that it creates which requires additional force to overcome.
(Refer figure 1)

Figure 1: Form drag

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Theory of Flight and Control
If a flat plate and a sphere of the same diameter are
placed in the air- flow, it can be observed that the
sphere has a much lower drag than the plate
(approx. 50 %). This is because the air separates more
smoothly round the front face of the sphere (and
the air is slowed down less). Additionally the air follows
the surface of the sphere for some way around the
rear before it separates. The turbulent wake region is
thus much narrower than that behind the flat plate.
If a streamlined shape with the same frontal area to
the airflow as the sphere is placed in the airflow at the
same speed, the drag is found to be even lower than
that of the sphere. This is because the more gradual
taper on the tail allows the airflow to remain attached
to the surface almost until reaching the trailing edge
before separation occurs. This gives a very low drag and
a narrow wake. (Refer figure 2)
Figure 2: Shapes of body in an airflow

Interference Drag
Interference drag is caused by air flowing over
one portion of the airframe interfering with the
smooth flow of air over another portion. For
example, the intersection of the wing and the
fuselage at the wing root has significant
interference drag. Air flowing around the
fuselage collides with air flowing over the wing,
merging into a current of air different from the
two original currents. The most interference drag
is observed when two surfaces meet at
perpendicular angles.
Figure 3: Wing fairing
On a complete aircraft, total drag is found to be greater than the sum of the drags of the
individual parts. This is the result of the interference flow at the junction of the wing and other
components to the fuselage which modifies the pressure variations around the components.
Interference drag is minimized by the installation of fairings and fillets where the two surfaces or
components join at an angle. (Refer figure 3)

Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology

Theory of Flight and Control

Skin Friction Drag

Every surface, no matter how apparently smooth, has a rough, ragged surface when viewed
under a microscope. The air molecules, which come in direct contact with the surface of the
wing, are virtually motionless. Each layer of molecules above the surface moves slightly faster
until the molecules are moving at the velocity of the air moving around the aircraft. This speed is
called the free-stream velocity. The actual speed at which the molecules move depends upon
the shape of the wing, the viscosity (stickiness) of the air through which the wing or airfoil is
moving, and its compressibility (how much it can be compacted). (Refer figure 4)

Figure 4: Magnification of aircraft skin under a microscope

The area between the wing surface and the
free-stream velocity level is called the boundary
layer. The slowing down of the air in the boundary
layer due to the viscosity and rough surfaces is
called skin friction drag. The drag caused by a

laminar boundary layer is lower than that of a

turbulent layer. It is most desirable to keep the
boundary layer laminar over as much of the surface
as possible to obtain low drag. (Refer figure 5)
The thickness of the boundary layer is affected by
Several factors:
Figure 5: Boundary layer

The distance the air that has to pass down the surface of the body.
The roughness of the surface.
Turbulence in the boundary layer.
The velocity of the airflow.

Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology

Theory of Flight and Control
Skin friction drag can be reduced by having smooth streamlined surfaces on the aircraft. Aircraft
designers utilize flush mount rivets and remove any irregularities which may protrude above the
wing surface. Since dirt on an aircraft disrupts the free flow of air and increases drag, keep the
surfaces of an aircraft clean and waxed.
In an effort to reduce skin friction drag, some aircraft manufacturers incorporated means to
prolong the laminar flow over the wing or to inject more energy to the slow boundary layer. An
example is riblet film which is fitted on some Airbus A340s and vortex generators.
Riblet films are microgrooves, an integrated series of peaks and valleys with V-shaped crosssection. When turbulent air passed over the riblets, it is forced through the narrow passage of
the grooves and will increase its velocity to flow as a laminar airflow. (Refer figure 6)

Figure 6: Microgrooves Riblet film

Vortex generators are corresponding pair of small low-aspect-ratio airfoils mounted at opposite
angles of attack to each other and perpendicular to the aerodynamic surface. Like any airfoil,
vortex generators develop lift and very strong tip vortices. These tip vortices have the effect of
drawing high-energy air from the outside boundary layer into the slower moving air close to the
skin.They can also be found on the fuselage, engine and empennage. (Refer to figure 7)

Figure 7: Vortex generators

Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology

Theory of Flight and Control

Induced Drag
Induced drag is inherent whenever an airfoil is producing lift and the amount of drag created is
proportional to the lift being produced. Since the amount of lift produced depend on airspeed,
then the amount of induced drag produced varies inversely or decreases with the square of the
The induced drag is associated with the wing tip vortices which are formed because of the
pressure difference between the upper and the lower wing surfaces. There is a tendency for
these pressures to equalize, resulting in a lateral or spanwise flow outward from the underside
of the wing surface to the upper wing surface. This lateral flow imparts a rotational velocity to
the air at the tips, creating vortices, which trail behind the aerofoil or wing tips. (Refer to figure

Figure 8: Wing tip vortices

Induced drag is a penalty we pay for the production of lift, but there are ways of keeping it to a
minimum. The methods are:

Increasing speed.
Reducing angle of attack.
Use of winglets.
Use of wing fences.
Increasing Aspect ratio.

Increasing Speed
With an increase in speed induced drag is reduced. The effect of speed means that the air does
not have time to move spanwise to spill over the wing tip - it is "pushed" too quickly chordwise
over the trailing edge. (Refer figure 9)

Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology

Theory of Flight and Control

Figure 9: Increase airspeed reduced induced drag


Reducing Angle of Attack

Induced drag is at its greatest at high angles of attack. The effect of a large angle of attack is to
increase the pressure difference between the top and bottom of the wing and therefore
increase the induced drag. Reduce angle of attack will reduce induce drag. (Refer figure 10)

Figure 10: Induced drag vs Angle of attack

Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology

Theory of Flight and Control

Use of Winglets
A winglet helps prevent the air from spilling over the wing tip. They can be added to the tip of an
airfoil to reduce this flow. The winglets act as a dam preventing the vortex from forming. Some
aircraft have a winglet fitted beneath the wing tip, others on top, and some top and bottom.
(Refer figure 11)

Figure 11: Different shapes of winglets


Use of Wing Fences

Wing fences, sometime called stall fences, are chordwise barriers on the upper surface of the
wing. These are flat metal plates (up to 12in [300mm] high) and fitted parallel to the free stream
flow. They are fitted to help prevent spanwise movement of the air on swept wing aircraft, and
may be found in front of control surfaces to increase their effectiveness. (Refer figure 12)

Figure 12: Wing fences

Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology

Theory of Flight and Control


Increasing Aspect Ratio.

Aspect ratio is defined as the number of times the average chord length divides into the wing
span. With all other details being equal, an increase in aspect ratio decreases the drag, especially
at high angles of attack. High aspect ratio wing is long and slender and will have less tip area for
air to flow over.
An example of high aspect ratio wing is a glider, a highperformance sailplane, that can operate
at relatively slow airspeeds and high angles of attack. High speed aircraft such as the Concorde
has low aspect ratio wing because their induced drag is reduced due to the high speed. (Refer
figure 13)

Figure 13: High and low aspect ratio wings


Total Drag
The amount of induced drag varies
inversely with the square of the
airspeed. Conversely, parasite drag
increases as the square of the airspeed.
Thus, as airspeed decreases to near the
stalling speed, the total drag becomes
greater, due mainly to the sharp rise in
induced drag. Similarly, as the airspeed
reaches the terminal velocity of the
aircraft, the total drag again increases
rapidly, due to the sharp increase of
parasite drag.
To fly efficiently we need to know the
optimum speed at which the aircraft
experience the lowest total drag.
(Refer figure 14)
Figure 14: Airspeed vs Total drag graph

Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology

Theory of Flight and Control

Drag Equation
Similar to lift, the amount of induced drag (D) produced by a wing depends on the following

The drag coefficient (CD), which is a dimensionless number for a specific airfoil at a certain
angle of attack measured during wind tunnel testing. (Refer figure 15)
2 The square of the velocity (V), divided by two.
3. The airfoil surface or wing area (S or A).
4. The air density ().
Applying these factors, the drag equation can be established as:


Figure 15: Drag Coeffient


Lift/Drag Ratio
The lift to drag ratio (L/D) is the amount of lift generated by a wing or airfoil compared to its
drag. A ratio of L/D indicates airfoil efficiency. Aircraft with higher L/D ratios are more efficient
than those with lower L/D ratios.
The L/D ratio is determined by dividing the CL by the CD, which is the same as dividing the lift
equation by the drag equation. All terms except coefficients cancel out. (Refer figure 16)

L/D =



Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology

Theory of Flight and Control

Figure 16: L/D Ratio graph