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This slide shows the shapes for a variety of wings and rocket fins as viewed from the side

while looking
onto the fin. This view is called a planform of the wing or fin. You can see that wings come in many
different planforms: rectangular, triangular, trapezoidal, or even elliptical. To determine
the lift and drag that a wing generates, you must be able to calculate the area of any of these shapes.
This skill is taught in middle school and used every day by design engineers. The area is the two-
dimensional amount of space that an object occupies. Area is measured along the surface of an object
and has dimensions of length squared; for example, square feet of material, or centimeters squared.

On the slide we have listed the formula to calculate the area of a variety of shapes: The area of
a rectangle is equal to the height h times the base b;


The equation for the area of a trapezoid is one half the sum of the top t and bottom b times the height h;


The area of a triangle is equal to one half of the base b times the height h;
A = .5 * b * h

Some fins are elliptically shaped. For an ellipse with a semi-axis a and semi-axis b, the area is given by:

A = pi * a * b

where pi is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle and is equal to 3.1415. A special case
of the ellipse is a circle, in which the semi-axis is equal to the radius r. The area of a circle is:

A = pi * r^2

If the root of an elliptical fin is given by cr and the distance from the root to the tip is given by ct, the area
of the fin is:

A = pi * cr *ct

For a compound configuration like the Space Shuttle, you have to break up the wing into simple shapes
which you can compute, and then add them together.


An airplane flying through the sky is a very exciting sight: hearing the roar of the
engines as it soars overhead; watching as it rolls and turns across the sky; wondering
how it is possible for such a large, heavy object to appear lighter than air. Although
there are a lot of things that work together to get an airplane to fly, the most basic
element needed is air, specifically, molecules of air. To fly, the airplane must pass
through the air. Although the air is not visible, it is made up of millions of tiny
molecules that move and push against each other. These particles of air take up space.
These molecules have volume. They are also made up of matter so they have mass,
too. Air molecules can be squeezed into a tube where they are tightly compressed
together. They can also expand and spread out across a wide area. They also have
weight. Some molecules actually weigh more than others. For example, scientists
discovered some time ago that hydrogen and helium are lightweight gas molecules
while nitrogen and carbon dioxide molecules are heavyweights. Because these
molecules are made up of matter, have volume and have mass, they can exert a
tremendous amount of pressure and force. You can feel the air pushing against you
when the wind blows. As you move through a room, you push against the air
molecules, moving them around. Knowing that air is not empty space, but actually
made up of "stuff" like air molecules, led to some very important discoveries.
Atmospheric Flight
Important Discoveries

Around 1783 Daniel Bernoulli, a Swiss mathematician, discovered that if you increase
the speed at which water (a fluid) flows, the pressure decreases. This discovery
became known as Bernoulli's Principle and was later used to describe how airflow (air
is also considered a fluid) and air pressure are related. When applied to flight,
Bernoulli's Principle works like this:

Air flowing over the top of a wing moves faster than air flowing underneath the
wing. The difference in speed of airflow causes a difference in air pressure
between air over the top of the wing and air underneath the wing. Air pressure
over the wing is lower than the air pressure under the wing.

This causes the wing to rise into the pocket of lower air pressure. This is how lift

In the late 1700's, Sir Isaac Newton wondered about the forces that move people and
objects around the Earth. He experimented and recorded what he found. His writings
are now known as "Newton's Laws". His "Third Law" states that "for every action
there is an equal and opposite reaction." For example, when you are swimming and
you want to move forward in the water, you move your arms so that you push the
water (water molecules) back behind and away from you. By pushing the water back
behind you (the action), you thrust your body forward (the reaction). When applied to
flight, Newton's Third Law works like this:

A jet engine expels hot, high pressure air out behind it (the action) which
causes the airplane to move in the opposite direction or forward (the reaction).
This gives the airplane thrust.
Newton also described the principles of gravity. He correctly hypothesized that all
objects in the universe exert an attractive force on each other. This force is related to
each object's mass, that is the greater the mass, the greater the attraction (or force of
gravity). This attraction between the Earth and other objects is measured by weight.
Weight is measured in pounds or newtons (That's right, named after Sir Isaac

You probably know how much you weigh. To get off the ground, you need to pull
away from the Earth's surface with more force than the Earth is using to hold you onto
its surface. This is where the forces of weight and lift are used to overcome gravity for

It is this same gravitational pull that holds the Earth's atmosphere close to the Earth.
The atmosphere is a thick layer of air molecules that remain close to the surface of a
planet or satellite (moon). The greater the mass of the planet, the stronger the
gravitational pull. But there is more to gravity and atmosphere that helps airplanes to

Gravity and Atmosphere

Gravity is what keeps a planet's gaseous atmosphere from spreading out into space
away from the planet. If we compare the gravitational pull of each planet in our solar
system we would find them to be different. This is because a planet's gravity is related
to its mass. Usually the greater a planet's mass, the greater the gravitational pull. Let's
look at the Earth and Jupiter.

Earth Jupiter

Jupiter's mass is 318 times greater than Earth's mass. That means Jupiter has a
stronger gravitational pull than the Earth does. If an object on Earth weighs 100
pounds, place that same object on Jupiter and it will weigh 234 pounds. As the planet
rotates on its axis it exerts a centrifugal effect on the atmosphere. Let's say that you
are wearing a pair of lightweight, loose fitting sunglasses. If you spin around quickly
in one place, these sunglasses will fly off your nose and move outward away from
your face. This is a centrifugal effect. The air molecules around a planet do the same
thing, especially if they are lightweight. Molecules in a gas are in constant motion
zipping around and bouncing off each other. Lightweight gases such as hydrogen and
helium move faster than medium-weight gases like nitrogen and oxygen. The heavy
gases like carbon dioxide move at a slower rate of speed than the other two. To
visualize this choose this link to an animation of molecular motion. A large planet like
Jupiter with a strong gravitational pull is able to hold the light gases even though they
move at high speeds. A small planet like Earth or Mars cannot hold onto lightweight
gases. The moon is so small that its gravity is not even strong enough to hold onto the
heavy gases like carbon dioxide, that means it has no atmosphere.

The gravity on Earth, however, is strong enough to hold onto gases like nitrogen and
oxygen. So when the Earth was forming, the lightweight gases of hydrogen and
helium escaped into space, leaving behind the heavier gases of nitrogen and oxygen.
Mars has only one-third the gravity of Earth, but rotates very close to the same speed
as Earth. This means that when Mars was forming it could not hold onto nitrogen and
oxygen gases. This left Mars with only the heavy gases in its atmosphere, mostly
carbon dioxide.

Balloons on Mars
Balloon History on Earth

The first widely recorded, public demonstration of a balloon took place in June of
1783. On this date, a 105-foot circumference balloon, designed by the brothers Joseph
and Jacques Montgolfier, was launched in Annonay, France. It rose to an altitude of
6,000 feet. This balloon or ballon was named for the oblong paper bag used in their
early experiments. The brothers made a fire and used the smoke and heated air to fill
the ballon. Because the air inside theballon was warmer than the cooler and heavier
air surrounding the ballon, it floated upward.

A few months later, a hydrogen-filled balloon designed by Professor Jacques

Alexander Charles was successfully launched in Paris, France. Since hydrogen is a
gas that is lighter than air molecules, it displaces the air molecules (or pushes them out
of the way) as it rises upwards. By the end of that year, both kinds of balloons were
being used to carry passengers.

The invention of the balloon started a new period of explorations. The early
"aeronauts" competed with one another to travel higher and farther. Today, balloons
are used mostly for sports and recreational purposes or for high-altitude scientific and
meteorological research.

There are two main parts of a balloon: the balloon itself which is called the envelope,
and the basket or gondola. The gondola is attached to the envelope by strong cables.
The envelope is made of a lightweight, gas-tight fabric.

How They Stay Airborne

A balloon gets its lift from Archimedes' Principle. A balloon traps lighter-than-air
gases (hydrogen or helium or hot air) in its envelope. These gases then displace the
cooler and/or heavier air surrounding the envelope on the outside. This creates an
upthrust or buoyancy force that lifts the envelope and gondola (that is, if the weight of
gondola, passenger(s) and payload are not heavier than the lift force!)

Let's Explore Buoyancy

The air pressure in the atmosphere slowly decreases as one rises in altitude. If the
pressure on the top of a balloon could be carefully measured, one would find that the
air pressure is slightly less there than at the bottom of the balloon. The greater
pressure acting on the bottom of the balloon results in a small lift force pushing up on
the ball. The amount of lift force depends on the difference in pressure between the
top and the bottom of the balloon. As the difference in air pressure between the top of
the balloon and the bottom of the balloon becomes greater, the lift force will become
greater. It also depends on how big the surface area of the balloon is. The greater the
surface area of the balloon the greater the lift force, also.

The Greek mathematician and engineer, Archimedes, described the amount of

buoyancy force on an object as equal to the weight of the fluid that it displaces.

As a simple math problem it looks like this:

Weight of displaced fluid = object's volume x fluid density

The weight of the fluid displaced is the displaced volume times the fluid density.
Since the buoyancy force on an object in the atmosphere is so small, an object must be
very large and very lightweight to get enough buoyant lift to be useful.

So what does Archimedes taking a bath have to do with flying balloons on Mars? In
order for a hot air balloon to carry two people of average weight in Earth's
atmosphere, the envelope would need to be almost 55 feet in diameter. That's a fairly
large balloon. This balloon would then displace about 6,200 pounds of air. The hot air
inside the balloon would weigh about 5,200 pounds. This means that the hot air
balloon could really only lift about 1,000 pounds. If the balloon envelope, basket, fuel
tanks, and burner weigh about 600 pounds, that would leave only about 400 pounds of
lift to pick up two people. In Earth's atmosphere it would be able to generate enough
lift to carry its payload safely.

But what about Mars' atmosphere?

Surprise, a hot air balloon on Mars makes no sense, because there is no air on Mars.
The atmosphere on Mars is CO2 but there is so little of it that it is not enough to heat.
On Mars a helium balloon would make sense.

Did you ever play with a helium balloon at a birthday party when you were little? Can
you imagine a helium balloon on Earth that could carry two people (about 400 lbs.)?
If the envelope of the balloon was made of thin mylar, it would be 1/3 of the weight of
the fabric that is used for hot air balloons. There would be no propane gas tank or gas
burner but there would still be a gondola and there would be a helium tank. The size
of the helium balloon would be 30 feet in diameter.

On Mars if you used the same materials for a two person balloon, the diameter of the
balloon would have to be 160 feet. That's one enormous balloon! The envelop would
weigh 1300 lbs. and if you packed it in a container with no airspace, the container
would be 2 feet in diameter and 5.5 feet long. That's a big heavy object to send all the
way to Mars. There would be very few benefits for the cost of such a balloon. Not to
mention that it would be difficult to control the balloon's flight.

So, how are balloons controlled anyway?

Balloon Control

The aeronaut can only control the upward and downward movement of the balloon.
To ascend, the aeronaut adds hot air or more lighter-than-air gas into the envelope. To
descend, the aeronaut releases the hot air or lighter-than-air gas out of the envelope. A
balloon has no means of propulsion. A balloon's side-to-side movement cannot be
controlled so it drifts with the wind. To change direction, the aeronaut must ascend or
descend to catch a wind current moving in the desired direction of flight.

Different Types
Hot Air Balloon
These balloons are used mainly for sport and recreation. They use air heated by a
burner to give the lifting force to carry the gondola and its passengers and cargo. To
rise higher, more hot air is released into the envelope. This is done by pulling on a
cord that releases the flow of liquid propane from its storage cylinder through a tube
toward the burner. The liquid is heated by a flame which warms it and turns it into a
gas. The gas reaches the burner. Flames are released from the burner which warms the
air in the envelope. To descend, hot air is released from the top of the envelope. This
causes the air inside the balloon to become cooler. The balloon then descends.

Hydrogen Balloon

A hydrogen balloon works just like a hot air balloon except that it does not use a
burner to generate hot air. It uses a gas called hydrogen. The gas is stored in a tank
and released into the envelope when the balloon needs to ascend. Hydrogen is lighter
than the mixture of air molecules found in Earth's atmosphere. So when the envelope
is filled with hydrogen, it naturally rises above the heavier air molecules by pushing
them out of the way on the way up.

Meteorological Balloon
These balloons are designed to carry a scientific payload high into the Earth's upper
atmosphere. They have been known to fly as high as 34 miles above the ground. They
carry lightweight instruments that measure such atmospheric conditions as air
pressure, temperature, humidity and wind velocity. Their envelope is much slimmer
than that of other balloon styles. They are made of lightweight rubber and filled with
either hydrogen or helium.
Atmospheric Pressure

Unseen by the human eye, air is in constant, frantic motion at the surface of the Earth.
As in any gas, the molecules are moving and bumping into each other at different
speeds. Near the Earth's surface they move at an average of 1,090 miles per hour.
Warm the air and the molecules move faster. Cool the air and the molecules slow their
speed. The impacts of billions and billions of moving molecules cause pressure. At
the surface of the Earth, the air pressure is greater than at the top layer of the
atmosphere 50+ miles above the Earth's surface.
Imagine a long tube standing up from the Earth's surface all the way to the top of the
atmosphere, about 50 miles straight up. The weight of all the air in that tube is
pressing on the Earth's surface. How much does all that air weigh? If the area in the
cross section of the tube is one square foot, then the weight of all the air in the tube
would be more than 2,000 pounds! The normal air pressure at the Earth's surface is
2,116 pounds per square foot.

Now, suppose we climb up the tube to a place about 4 miles above the Earth's surface.
If we could drill a hole in the tube at that point and measure the pressure there, we
would find that the pressure is much less, only about 1,000 pounds per square inch.
Why is the pressure less? Because there is less air in the tube above this point, so there
is less weight of air pressing down. What happens is that the pressure of the air above
it, compresses it. The air closer to the Earth has more density because the molecules
are closer together. Near the top of the atmosphere, there is very low air density
because there is very little pressure pressing the molecules together. But at the surface
of the Earth, the density is much higher. So, the layers of air in the lower atmosphere
are more compressed than those layers of air above it. As one moves up in altitude,
the air pressure and density become less.
Four Forces


Can you think of examples of force? If you push a door closed, your push is a force. If
you pull a drawer open, your pull is a force. A force actually has two parts. One part is
the strength of the force. When you push a door closed, do you push it gently or does
it slam shut? How hard the door is pushed is called strength or magnitude of the force.
The other part is the direction of the force. Let's say you are pulling on a rope. Pull it
to the right, then to the left. Pull it upwards and then pull it downwards. Where you
pulled the rope is the direction of the force. A force has both magnitude and direction.

In aeronautics, there are four important forces. These four forces are called lift,
weight, thrust and drag. Each force works in a specific direction. The magnitude of
each force can vary from weak to strong. All of these four forces are hard at work
when an airplane is in flight. They often work in opposite directions from each other,
but together they make flight possible.


Weight is a force that you probably already know about. When you step on a scale,
you are checking to see what your weight is. An airplane has weight too, just like
every other object that exists around Earth. All objects whether big or small, exert a
gravity force on other objects. As you are sitting in your chair, you are exerting a
gravity force on the person next to you, even if you are not touching them!

If an object is very large it can exert a lot of force on objects around it. One example
of a very large object is Earth. We know that Earth exerts a gravity force on us. We
call that force weight. The Earth's gravity force pulls on all objects that are within a
very wide area. The moon reacts to the Earth's gravity force by revolving around the

When you weigh yourself, you are actually measuring the force of Earth's gravity on
your body. Remember that there are two parts to a force: magnitude and direction.
The direction of your weight force is toward the Earth. The magnitude of your weight
force is how heavy you are.

Airplanes have a weight force, too. Even as they fly many feet above the Earth, their
weight force is pulling them toward the Earth. Since they are so heavy, the magnitude
of their weight force is very great.


You are probably familiar with the lift force as well. You lift books off a desk. When
a strong wind blows pieces of paper and other lightweight objects are lifted off the
ground. When those objects lift off the ground it means that the lift force is stronger
than the weight force. If the weight force were stronger, then the object would not lift
into the air.
The lift force works the same way on an airplane. If an airplane can create enough lift
force to overcome the weight force, then the airplane will fly. Since the weight force
of an airplane is so great, the airplane needs to be able to generate a lot of lift. Such a
great lift force is generated by the air flowing over the wings of the airplane.

As the air flows over the wing, the lift force is created in an interesting direction. Can
you guess what that direction is? Most of the time the direction is "up". But actually it
is at a 90 degree angle to the airflow. Most of the time the airflow is going over the
wing from the front to back of the airplane. The lift force is always acting 90o to the
direction of flight.

An Animation about lift An Animation about the angle of attack


In order for the lift force to be created, air has to be flowing over the wings. We make
air flow over the wings by moving the wings through the air. As the wing moves
through the air, the air molecules flow over and under the wing which generates lift.

Somehow we need to get the airplane moving forward so that the air can begin
flowing over the wings. To do this we need thrust. Thrust is provided by the
propulsion system. Engines can be mounted on the wings or fuselage. They propel the
airplane along the runway and forward through the air.
The force that is created by the engines is called the thrust force. The direction of the
thrust force is based on where the engines are pointing. Since the engines are usually
mounted facing forward, the direction of thrust is usually towards the front of the
airplane. An exception is the the Av-8B Harrier which can create vertical lift.

A very strong engine can create lots of thrust while smaller engines will create less
thurst. The magnitude of the thrust force is determined by the size and power of the


As an airplane is thrust through the air, it must push aside all those air molecules that
are moving around in the space in front of it. As a wing moves through the air, the air
separates and some of the molecules follow along the top of the wing wile others flow
underneath the wing. The same thing happens with the rest of the airplane. The air
molecules must separate so that the airplane can move through the air. Air molecules
resist being separated by the airplane. This resistance is called drag. Drag can slow the
forward motion of the airplane. To overcome this drag, the thrust force needs to be
greater than the drag force.
There are different types of drag. One type of drag has to do with how smoothly the
airflow moves around the airplane. Another type of drag concerns what happens when
smooth airflow becomes turbulent airflow. Turbulent airflow changes the air pressure
at certain points on the airplane. These changes in air pressure increase drag. A third
type of drag occurs naturally with the design of any wing. Energy is lost in the process
of generating lift because some of the air flows out around the edge of the wingtip.
This creates drag. All wings have this type of drag. Some wing designs create less
drag than others.

The amount of drag depends on these things:

1. size of the aircraft

2. details of the shape and smoothness of the aircraft
3. lifting efficiency of the wing
4. dynamic pressure (density and speed)

Aerodynamic Lift

The Work of Wings

Have you noticed the curved shape of a bird's wing? An airplane's wing is curved
also. A wing is designed for flight. It has a special shape called an airfoil. Airfoil
shapes can be found on wings, fans and propellers. The airfoil shape provides a lifting
force when air flows around it. An airfoil has a thicker; rounded leading edge (front
end) and a very thin trailing edge (or back end). In between the leading and trailing
edge it is curved both on the top and bottom surfaces. The top surface usually has a
greater curve (or hump) than the bottom surface. When a surface is curved we say it
has camber.
An airfoil takes advantage of Bernoulli's Principle. Since the top surface of the wing
has more camber than the bottom surface, the air flows faster over the top of the wing
than it does underneath. This means that there is less air pressure above the wing than
there is beneath the wing. The difference in air pressure above and below the wing
causes lift.

How much lift does a wing make?

The amount of lift depends on these things:

1. the wing's airfoil shape

2. size (area) and shape of the wing
3. angle of attack
4. density of the air
5. speed of flight
The wing's airfoil shape:

An airfoil shape is used to give the greatest lift possible to an airplane. A flat plate
held at the proper angle of attack does generate lift, but also generates a lot of drag.
Sir George Cayley and Otto Lilienthal during the 1800's showed that curved surfaces
generate more lift and less drag than flat surfaces. Early research also showed that a
round leading edge and a sharp, flat trailing edge add to a wing's ability to generate
more lift and less drag.

Let's construct step-by-step an airfoil section.

A. The length of the airfoil section is determined by placing the leading and trailing
edges their desired distance apart. This length is called the chord line.

B. Add curvature with the camber line. The amount of curvature is determined by the
camber line. This curvature greatly helps generate lift.

C. Add thickness above the camber line. The amount of thickness that is added will
depend on the amount of strength needed in the wing and the speed the airplane will
usually fly.
D. Add the same amount of thickness below the camber line.

E. Now you have an airfoil shape.

Different airfoil shapes generate different amounts of lift and drag. If an airplane is
being designed to fly at low speed (0 - 100 mph), it will have a different airfoil shape
than an airplane designed to fly at supersonic speed (760 - 3,500 mph). That's because
the air flows in slightly different ways at different speeds and at different altitudes. In
general, low to medium speed airplanes have airfoils with more thickness and camber.

Because the airplane is not moving through the air very fast the wing needs to
generate as much lift as possible at a slower speed. The air density at lower altitudes is
greater. More molecules in the air generate more lift than fewer molecules in the same
amount of air. Greater camber gives greater lift at slower speeds. At faster speeds
(supersonic) and at higher altitudes airfoil shapes need to be thinner. That's because
when flying close to or at the speed of sound a shock wave forms at the nose of the
airplane. NASA researchers discovered that a thin airfoil delays the formation of the
shock wave. This reduces drag that is caused as the airplane moves through the shock

During the 1940's, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) did
research on different airfoil shapes. Their investigations gave results that are still used
today to influence the design of new aircraft.

Size (area) and shape of the wing:

When engineers design a new airplane, the size and shape of the wings are very
important to efficient flight. Wings provide the majority of the lift for an airplane, but
wings also cause drag. Air flowing over the top of a wing also tends to flow inward
toward the fuselage. Meanwhile the air flowing underneath the wing tends to flow
outward. As these two airflows meet along the trailing edge of the wing, they form a
rotating column of air that extends from the wingtips. This is called a wingtip vortex.
These are visible from a passenger's seat next to the wing on humid days, cold, moist
mornings or flying through mist.

Energy is lost in the process of making lift because of the airflow around the wingtips.
A wingtip vortex generates a lot of drag. If the lift is spread out over a longer
wingspan, the effects of the wingtip vortex are not as great. Engineers have found that
designing wings with greater aspect ratio lessens that drag. Aspect ratio is a
comparison between the length and width of a wing.

Let's do the math. We will keep all other things about the wing the same (weight,
airfoil shape, material that the wing is made out of, speed at which the airplane is
designed to fly, things like that). We first measure the wing's length and width. We
then perform our calculation: length divided by width. Our answer (the quotient) will
imply just how great the wingtip drag will be for this wing. The greater the number
for aspect ratio, the less the wingtip drag.

Let's look at an example. Take two wings with the same amount of area (let's say 100
square units), but with different lengths and widths.
Now figure the aspect ratio for each wing. The wing with the greater quotient will
have less wingtip drag.

Experiments have shown that a wing built with a greater aspect ratio tends to create
less drag than a wing built with a lesser aspect ratio even when their area remains the

Long slender wings like those on a sailplane are called "high aspect ratio" wings, and
are much more efficient at making lift without very much drag. Low aspect ratio
wings like on a fighter airplane have much more of this type of drag.
The shape of a wing greatly influences the performance of an airplane. The speed of
an airplane, its maneuverability, its handling qualities, all are very dependent on the
shape of the wings. There are, for our purposes here, 3 basic wing types that are used
on modern airplanes: straight, sweep and delta.

The straight wing is found mostly on small, low-speed airplanes. General Aviation
airplanes often have straight wings. Sailplanes also use a straight wing design. These
wings give the most efficient lift at low speeds, but are not very good for high speed
flight approaching the speed of sound.

The swept wing (forward swept or sweptback) is the wing design of choice for most
modern high speed airplanes. The swept wing design creates less drag, but is
somewhat more unstable for flight at low speeds. A high sweep wing delays the
formation of shock waves on the airplane as it nears the speed of sound. How much
sweep a wing design is given depends upon the purpose for which the airplane is
designed to be used. A commercial jetliner has a moderate sweep. This results in less
drag, while maintaining stability at lower speeds. High speed airplanes (like modern
jet fighters) have a greater sweep. These airplanes do not generate much lift very
during low speed flight. Airplanes with sweep need to take off and land at high
From above, a delta wing looks like a large triangle. It has a high sweep with a
straight, trailing edge. Because of this high sweep, airplanes with this wing are
designed to reach supersonic speeds. The landing speed of these delta-winged aircraft
is also fairly fast. This wing shape is found on the supersonic transport Concorde and
the Space Shuttles.

Angle of attack:
A wing moves into the airstream (through the air molecules). This airstream is also
moving toward the wing. Tilt the wing up and angle forms between the chord line and
the oncoming airstream. This angle is called the angle of attack.
As long as the airflow can move smoothly over and under the wing, the lift will
increase along with the angle of attack. At a certain point though, the angle of attack is
so great that the smooth (or attached) airflow cannot follow the shape on the upper
side of the wing. The airflow will then stop following the shape of the wing. The
airflow will spread out and away from the wing's surface. This is called airflow

Every wing has a particular angle of attack for certain speeds at which the airflow
separates from the wing's surface. This point is called the stall angle. When an
airplane's wing reaches the stall angle, the wing stops generating lift. (Exploring Aero
animation from Lift segment)

Density of the air:

Air density is measured by how tightly compressed the molecules are. Air molecules
in the lower layers of the atmosphere are closer together than the air molecules in the
upper atmosphere. When there are more molecules in the air (greater density), it is
easier to generate lift. Fewer molecules in the air make it more difficult to generate
lift. That's why it is easier to fly airplanes in the layer of atmosphere closest to the
Earth's surface. There are more molecules closest to the Earth's surface.

Speed of flight:
There is another kind of drag that has to do with compressing air molecules in the
atmosphere. When flying close to the speed of sound or at the speed of sound (Mach
1), the airflow around an aircraft acts differently than at slower speeds. As the aircraft
moves through the air it makes pressure waves. These pressure waves stream out
away from the aircraft at the speed of sound. This wave acts just like the ripples
through water after a stone is dropped in the middle of a still pond. At Mach 1 or
during transonic speed (Mach 0.7 - 0.9), the aircraft actually catches up with its own
pressure waves. These pressure waves turn into one big shock wave. It is this shock
wave that buffets the airplane. The shock wave also creates high drag on the airplane
and slows the airplane's speed. As the airplane passes through the shock wave it is
moving faster than the sound it makes. The shock wave forms an invisible cone of
sound that stretches out toward the ground. When the shock wave hits the ground it
causes a sonic boom that sounds like a loud thunderclap.
The energy lost in the process of compressing the airflow through these shock waves
is called wave drag. This reduces lift on the airplane.


Propulsion systems make of Newton's 3rd Law: an action produces an equal and
opposite reaction. Pushing (or accelerating) mass from behind the airplane generates a
force. In reaction to this push, the airplane moves forward.

The mass that is pushed backwards is taken from the atmosphere or carried in the
airplane. A wing produces lift by the way it disturbs the molecules in the atmosphere
when moving through the air. A propeller can produce thrust by pushing the
atmospheric gas from in front of the airplane back behind it. An inflated balloon that
is released in a room pushes the gas from inside it out through a nozzle. This does not
require mass from the atmosphere to generate thrust. The balloon carries its own
"fuel" (the air). When the air runs out, the balloon will need to be filled up again
before it can "jet" about the room.
Energy is needed to supply the force that accelerates the airplane. The energy must be
stored until the force is needed. Chemical energy is often stored, and released in a
controlled reaction at the appropriate time. This chemical energy is in the form of fuel.
Storing fuel on an airplane adds weight. This added weight will require more lift.
Aircraft designers need to design propulsion systems that give "the most bang for their
buck." That means they need to use fuel that will use the least amount of fuel and
generate the most amount of energy for thrust. The fuel should not take up a lot of fuel
tank storage space, should be lightweight and should be economical to use.

On Earth, aircraft carry hydrocarbon fuels and gather oxygen from the atmosphere for
combustion. Rockets that are launched into space cannot take enough oxygen from the
atmosphere, so they carry the oxygen with them. They have both a fuel tank and an
oxygen tank. Electric batteries are also commonly used for energy storage, but their
energy density is low. That means that many batteries or incredibly large sized
batteries would be needed to generate enough propulsion for continuous flight.

The sole purpose of the propulsion system is to provide thrust for the airplane.
Aircraft engines must be as lightweight and compact as possible. There are many
variations of piston engines with propellers and jet engines that are used in propulsion

Within a piston engine, the pistons can be arranged in 4 ways: radial, in-line, placed
on opposite sides and V-shaped. The radial engine has pistons arranged in a circle
with the spinning shaft in the middle. These engines were once the most widely used
aircraft engine. A piston engine uses pistons to drive a spinning shaft. The propeller is
attached to that shaft. At least 2 (but usually 3 or 4) blades make up the propeller. The
more blades on the propeller, the more air being moved by the propeller. Each
propeller blade has an airfoil shape that generates lift as the blade slices through the
air. Because the propeller is pointed forward, the force generated is in the same

Jet propulsion is a little like what happens when an inflated balloon is let go. The
pressure inside the balloon is pushing in all directions equally until the mouth of the
balloon is let go.

Releasing the mouth of the balloon creates an imbalance in the pressure. The pressure
at the mouth of the balloon (where there is a fast moving stream of air) is now less
than any place else on the balloon. This causes the balloon to move in the direction
opposite to the stream of air "jetting" out of the balloon's mouth. Jet engines work in a
similar manner. There are several types of jet engines: ramjet, turbojet and turbofan.
For out information we will look at a turbojet.

The turbojet was the first really useful jet engine to be built. The air flows into the
engine through the inlet. The design of the inlet makes the air slow its motion while
raising the pressure inside the inlet. The air then moves through the compressor. Here
sets of blades compress the air even more. This causes an increase in the pressure. The
air then enters the combustion chamber. Here the fuel is added and ignited. The
extremely hot, high pressure air rushes by the turbine blades making them spin at a
high rate of speed. The turbine blades are connected back to the compressor blades by
a shaft. The turbine blades take some of the energy from the air and returns the energy
to the compressor. The hot, high pressure air that gets through the turbine, "jets" out
the exhaust nozzle at the back of the engine. This moves the engine forward.
Photo courtesy of Pratt&Whitney

To increase the thrust, a device called an afterburner is sometimes built into the
engine. Fuel is dumped into the hot exhaust gas coming out of the nozzle. This causes
another controlled explosion. This makes the air even hotter which adds more energy
to it. This increases the thrust. This is not an energy efficient method. So it is used
only for brief periods when extra thrust is needed. It is typically used on takeoff or
when a burst of speed is needed.
The turbofan is a refinement to the turbojet. The turbofan is a more efficient engine. A
large set of fan blades is set directly in front of the inlet. The fan works much like a
propeller. It thrusts the engine forward while pushing a large amount of air backwards
in the process. As the air is pushed back by the fan, some of the air goes into the
engine and some of the air bypasses the engine. The engine that sits behind the fan is
basically a turbojet. The air that goes into this engine gets the same treatment as air
that goes through the turbojet. The turbine in the turbofan drives the fan as well as the
compressor. The air that "jets" out the back of this engine has less thrust than air that
exits a turbojet, but this is made uyp for by the added thrust from the fan. A turbofan
engine actually is more efficient than a turbojet and runs quieter than most other jet

Photo courtesy of Pratt&Whitney

The turboprop engine is basically a turbofan engine with the fan being replaced by a
propeller. The propeller is placed outside of the inlet. A gearbox is introduced which
controls the spinning of the shaft. This allows the pilot to control the speed of the
propeller's rotation. This is the most efficient means of propulsion, however it is
limited in forward speed. Because the propeller is out in the free stream air, not
mounted in the inlet (where the airspeed is reduced) the propeller has to rotate at
faster speeds. The speed of the propeller approaches the speed of sound a lot more
quickly than the airplane does itself. As the speed of the rotating propellers
approaches the speed of sound, drag greatly increases. This means that the speed of
the airplane must remain well below the speed of sound to prevent the tips of the
propeller from going too fast.

Engines, like wings, are designed for specific types of flight. The turboprop is an
engine that flies at medium speed efficiently. The trubofan engins is a good choice for
flight at top subsonic speeds. The turbofan with an afterburner would be an efficient
engine use to fly at supersonic speeds. For slow speeds with a small airplane, then a
piston engine would be best.

The most efficient way to give thrust is to add a little bit of energy to a lot of mass. A
propeller works well for an airplane that flies slowly in a dense atmosphere, where a
large mass of gas is available. At higher altitudes, where airplanes must fly fast to
develop adequate lift, jet engines gather less atmospheric gas, but accelerate it much
more. When the atmosphere is very thin, only the onboard fuel is available to be
accelerated, and the exhaust velocity is very high.

There are three main propulsion questions that need to be considered for the Mars

 Where will the mass (air molecules) that is pushed for thrust behind the
airplane come from?
 What method will be used to push the mass?
 How will energy be stored so that it is available to power the engine at the right
 Trim, Stability and Control
 The key concepts for aircraft control are trim, stability and controllability.
 Trim is equilibrium of moments. Moments can be viewed as a rotational
version of forces. Forces cause a body to translate, or move position, while
moments cause a body to rotate, or change angle. Moments can arise when
forces do not all act through the center of gravity of a body.
 Consider a board balanced on top of a triangle shaped support, a seesaw if you
like. If the board has a regular shape and uniform density, and you put the
triangle support underneath the board halfway, it will balance horizontally. If
the support is not directly under a mass, it will not balance. A moment is
created by the offset between the support and the center of mass.

 The weight force acts at center of mass (the black and white dot) which is in
line with the supporting force. The see-saw is in trim.

 The weight force acts at center of mass (the white and black dot) which is NOT
in line with the supporting force, producing a moment. The see-saw is NOT in
 When calculating moments for the seesaw, we used the distance between the
force and the pivot point as the moment arm. A free body (one that is not
attached to anything) pivots around its center of mass, so we calculate moments
by using the distance between the force and the center of mass.
 Stability is the tendency of a system to return to an equilibrium state after it is
perturbed. It is commonly described by talking about a ball in a valley, on a
plain or on a hill. If a ball is nudged in valley, it returns to the valley floor: the
system is stable. On a plain, there is no tendency to accelerate or return to the
initial position: the system has neutral stability. If a ball is nudged from its
position on top of a hill, it tends to accelerate down the hill: the system is

 Adding heavy blocks to the top of the see-saw shifts the center of mass above
the pivot. When the left end of the see-saw is shifted down, the center of mass
moves to the left, and a moment is produced that rotates the left end further
down. The system is UNSTABLE.

 Adding heavy blocks to the bottom of the see-saw shifts the center of mass
below the pivot. When the left end of the see-saw is shifted down, the center of
mass moves to the right, and a moment is produced that rotates the left end
back up. The system is STABLE.

 Stability is the ability of an airplane to return, of its own accord, to its original
attitude in flight after it has been disturbed by some outside force, like wind
gusts. It also refers to an airplane's response to the pilot's use of the controls.
 An important component of stability for an airplane is the center of gravity
(CG). The CG is an imaginary point about which the weight of an airplane
balances. If you put a ruler across your finger and place it so it balances, your
finger is at the CG of the ruler. The CG of an airplane does not stay at the same
place at all times. The loading of heavy cargo onto an airplane will shift the CG
as will the drainage of fuel from the tanks during flight. Pilots have to
recognize shifts in the CG and respond accordingly. Sudden shifts in the CG
can be catastrophic. For example, if an airplane experiences turbulence during
flight and a large cargo load shifts, the pilot may have trouble reacting quickly
enough to the change in the airplane's center of gravity to maintain stability of
the airplane.
 Imagine putting a weight on the back of an arrow. Because the CG has shifted,
it will be less stable and tend to wobble. Now consider the arrow flying with
feathers in front. If the tip is nudged up, the angle of attack for the feathers
(wings) is increased. The lift force points up, and causes the arrow to rotate so
that the angle of attack increases further. The moment continues to rotate the
arrow until feathers are at the back. Now flying in its proper orientation when
the tip is nudged up, the angle of attack for the feathers causes a lift force and a
moment that rotates the tip back to its equilibrium position.

 The empennage, or tail, plays an important role in the stability of an airplane-
much like the tail feathers of an arrow are critical to the stability of the arrow's
flight. If an arrow is shot without its tail feathers, it will wobble. The tail
feathers keep the arrow stable, and help it stay on course. The empennage
works the same way. The vertical fin helps to maintain stability in the direction
of yaw. The horizontal stabilizer helps to maintain stability in the direction of
pitch. The empennage structures do produce drag, however. Researchers have
developed ways to fly tail-less airplanes, but the airplanes must use computer-
based control systems to maintain stability. While the empennage structures of
different airplanes can be very dissimilar, most modern airplanes still do have
some form of fin and horizontal stabilizer. The arrow is stable when the lift
force on the feathers from a disturbance acts behind the CG. In the same way,
an airplane is stable when the combined center of lift of the wing and the tail
acts behind the center of gravity.

 Controllability means that different trim conditions can be commanded. A
system might have a natural trim condition, and be stable about the condition,
but be uncontrollable, because the operator is unable to command a different
condition. A controllable system has actuators to introduce moments that can
drive the system to a new position. Imagine that there is a mechanism that can
move the support under the seesaw.

 If the mass distribution changes (perhaps if we use up fuel from one end of the
seesaw) we need to adjust the pivot location to restore trim. The system is
 Most airplanes have horizontal and vertical tails to make the airplane stable.
These control structures behave like the feathers of an arrow. These surfaces
can also be used to control the orientation of the airplane. The horizontal tail
has an elevator that controls pitch moments. The vertical tail has a rudder that
controls the yaw moments. The airplane also has controls near the tips of the
wings called ailerons. These move in opposition to each other, so that one side
of the wings produces a little more lift while the other produces a little less lift.
These controls cause a moment that makes the airplane roll.
 An airplane has three control surfaces: ailerons, elevators, and a rudder. The
control stick controls the ailerons and elevators. The rudder pedals control the

 A more detailed discussion of how control surfaces work
 Controlling Motion
 An airplane has three control surfaces: ailerons, elevators and a rudder. These
control surfaces affect the motions of an airplane by changing the way the air
flows around it.

 The ailerons are flap-like structures on the trailing edge of the wings -one on
each side. When the pilot moves the control stick to the right, the right aileron
will tilt up and the left aileron will tilt down. This will cause the airplane to roll
to the right. When the pilot moves the control stick to the left, the left aileron
tilts up, the right aileron tilts down and the airplane rolls to the left. This
happens because as the aileron tilts downward (effectively increasing camber)
more lift is created and the wing rises. As it tilts upward, less lift will be created
and the wing will lower. If the wing of one side of the airplane rises and the
other descends, the airplane will roll towards the side with the decrease in lift.

 The elevators are also flap-like structures that are mounted on each side of the
horizontal stabilizer. As an airplane flies in its proper orientation and level to
the horizon the pilot uses the elevator to control the pitch of the nose. That
means the elevator controls the nose's motion of up and down. When the pilot
pushes the control stick forward, the elevators tilt downward -this is called
pitching down. When the pilot pulls the control stick back, the elevators tilt
upward, the tail goes down and the fuselage pitches nose-up. When the elevator
tilts downward more lift is created (like the ailerons) and the tail rises. When
the elevator tilts upward, less lift is created and the tail descends.

 The rudder is located on the vertical fin. The rudder controls the motion of yaw.
Yaw causes the airplane's nose to move sideways to the left or right. The two
rudder pedals are located at the pilot's feet. When the pilot pushes on the right
rudder pedal, the rudder tilts to the right and the airplane yaws nose-right.
When the pilot pushes on the left rudder pedal, the rudder tilts to the left and
the airplane yaws nose-left. Again this is due to lift. However, the direction of
this lift force is different than the lift force that causes the airplane to ascend.
When the rudder tilts to the right, more lift is created on the right, which lifts or
pushes the vertical stabilizer to the left. This, in turn, causes the airplane to yaw
nose-right. The opposite motion occurs when the rudder tilts to the left.

 The thinner the atmosphere the slower the reaction of the airplane to its control
surfaces. Airplanes flying at fast speeds in the lower atmosphere react more
quickly to a change in the control surfaces than airplanes flying at extremely
high altitudes at the same speed. That's because there are fewer air molecules to
disturb. This becomes even more important when flying airplanes on planets
with atmospheres that are less dense than Earth's atmosphere.
 Structure
 All the different pieces of an airplane must be held together by a sound
structure, like the steel frame of a building or the chassis of a car. The structure
must be strong so that the airplane doesn't break when the aerodynamic forces
(weight, lift, thrust and drag) act on it. It must be stiff so that the pieces
maintain their correct aerodynamic position during flight. Stiffness against
twisting is particularly important during turbulent flight. The amount of force
also depends on the flight speed. Design rules include a warning that a certain
airplane design must not fly faster than the recommended speed. Flying faster
than the recommended speed could cause the airplane's structure to break apart
under the stress.
 Usually airplanes can be made stiffer and stronger by using more or heavier
material. It is more expensive to buy the extra material, but it can be worth it to
avoid worrying about airplane's structure breaking apart. Unfortunately, for
airplanes, the weight of the material is much more important than the cost. Any
extra weight for the body of the airplane means less weight is available for
payload (passengers or cargo). Airplane designers need to make airplanes as
lightweight as possible without making it too weak. An airplane that is too
heavy and strong cannot carry payload efficiently.
 Airplanes are made of materials that are stiff, strong and lightweight. Early
airplanes were made from fabric with lightweight, but strong wood. Later they
were constructed of lightweight sheet metal. Now airplanes are made up of a
mix of fabricated metal and composites that provide strength without adding a
lot of weight.

 When designing an airplane to fly on Mars scientists usually calculate the
relative weights of each design. They are aware that smaller airplanes are
generally lighter. The Mars airplane will not need to be a full-scale airplane.
Because of that, it can be built of even lighter weight material than an ordinary
Earth-bound airplane is normally constructed.
 A Word about Packaging
 A useful aircraft must carry payload, which might be passengers or cargo. For
the Mars airplane, the payload will include scientific instruments and cameras.
These must be packaged along with its engine, fuel and flight control system.
The payload must be protected from vibration. The payload must not interfere
with the operation of the aircraft.
 Wings are often too thin to provide useful volume for packaging large
components. Commercial transport aircraft use their wings to carry liquid fuel,
because the tanks can fit easily into the shape of the wing. Payload and flight
systems are often placed in a fuselage that is typically a long cylinder.

 This cylinder shape gives a good combination of high volume, low structural
weight and low aerodynamic drag. Earth-bound gliders only need space
(volume) in the fuselage for the pilot, so they often have a pod-shaped cockpit.

 For the Mars airplane, the packaging task is to find a fuselage shape that has
enough room inside for the payload and flight systems. The payload must be
placed so that the instruments and cameras can operate properly. As airplane
designers you want the best combination of low weight, low drag and high
strength for this job.
 Summing Up Atmospheric Flight
 So you see from this research that there are so many things to think about
before you begin actually designing an airplane to fly within the atmosphere of
Mars! You have learned a lot already about what it takes to make a vehicle
work to carry useful payloads in the atmosphere. You have seen how the
differences between the Earth's atmosphere and Mars' atmosphere will greatly
change the way aircraft need to be designed in order to fly on Mars. The four
forces are all affected by these differences in atmospheres.
 You now understand that an aircraft can move through the atmosphere and get
additional lift from the fluid motion of air around it. Moving an aircraft through
the air molecules creates airflow. This airflow around the wings generates extra
lift because of the dynamic pressure (lower air pressure over the wing and
greater air pressure under the wing). Wings are specially shaped to generate a
large amount of lift while keeping the airflow around it smooth as it closely
follows the shape of the wing (attached airflow). Lift is needed to offset
the weight, the effect of gravity.
 There is always resistance or drag on any aircraft as it moves through the
atmosphere. The wings even tough they are generating lift also create drag.
Extra drag is created when an aircraft flies near to or faster than the speed of
sound (at transonic and supersonic speeds). Most of the time aircraft are
designed with wings that generate as little drag as possible. Sometimes
depending upon what the airplane's mission is, it is worth the extra drag to
design the wings a certain way.
 Drag forces must be overcome by engines (propulsion systems) that
create thrust. Thrust is created by pushing some of the surrounding atmosphere
back with greater velocity, or by adding extra material with high velocity to the
atmosphere. Our Earth-flight propulsion systems need a greater amount of
oxygen and a higher density of air molecules than what is within the
atmosphere of Mars. An aircraft designer must give much thought to the
atmosphere of Mars when designing a propulsion system for thrust on Mars.
 From buoyancy to the four forces to atmospheric differences, many factors
must be considered before actually designing an aircraft to fly through the
atmosphere of Mars. After careful consideration of all the factors presented in
this and other sections of this Web site, work with your team members to begin
the design process.