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1. Aeromechanics: the branch of mechanics that deals with the motion of
gases (especially air) and their effects on bodies in the flow.

2. The physics of the movement of objects through air or gas.

3. NASA definition: Aerodynamics is the way air moves around things.

The rules of aerodynamics explain how an airplane is able to fly.
Anything that moves through air reacts to aerodynamics. A rocket
blasting off the launch pad and a kite in the sky react to aerodynamics.
Aerodynamics even acts on cars, since air flows around cars.

4. Aerodynamics is a branch of dynamics concerned with studying the

motion of air, particularly when it interacts with a moving object.
Aerodynamics is a subfield of fluid dynamics and gas dynamics, with
much theory shared between them.

The four forces of flight are lift, weight, thrust and drag. These forces
make an object move up and down, and faster or slower. How much of
each force there is changes how the object moves through the air.

What is weight?
Everything on Earth has weight. This force comes from gravity pulling
down on objects. To fly, an aircraft needs something to push it in the
opposite direction from gravity. The weight of an object controls how strong
the push has to be. A kite needs a lot less upward push than a jumbo jet
What Is Lift?
Lift is the push that lets something move up. It is the force that is the
opposite of weight. Everything that flies must have lift. For an aircraft to
move upward, it must have more lift than weight. A hot air balloon has lift
because the hot air inside is lighter than the air around it. Hot air rises and
carries the balloon with it. A helicopter’s lift comes from the rotor blades at
the top of the helicopter. Their motion through the air moves the helicopter
upward. Lift for an airplane comes from its wings.

What Is Drag?
Drag is a force that tries to slow something down. It makes it hard for an
object to move. It is harder to walk or run through water than through air.
That is because water causes more drag than air. The shape of an object also
changes the amount of drag. Most round surfaces have less drag than flat
ones. Narrow surfaces usually have less drag than wide ones. The more air
that hits a surface, the more drag it makes.

What Is Thrust?
Thrust is the force that is the opposite of drag. Thrust is the push that moves
something forward. For an aircraft to keep moving forward, it must have
more thrust than drag. A small airplane might get its thrust from a propeller.
A larger airplane might get its thrust from jet engines. A glider does not have
thrust. It can only fly until the drag causes it to slow down and land.

How Do an Airplane's Wings Provide Lift?

The shape of an airplane's wings is what makes it able to fly. Airplanes'

wings are curved on top and flatter on the bottom. That shape makes air flow
over the top faster than under the bottom. So, less air pressure is on top of
the wing. This condition makes the wing, and the airplane it's attached to,
move up. Using curves to change air pressure is a trick used on many
aircraft. Helicopter rotor blades use this trick. Lift for kites also comes from
a curved shape. Even sailboats use this concept. A boat's sail is like a wing.
That's what makes the sailboat move.
Aerodynamics principle:

Bernoulli's principle, a fundamental law of fluids in motion, states that when

flow speed increases, pressure decreases and vice versa. An airplane wing is
designed so that air will flow more rapidly over the upper surface than the
lower one, decreasing the pressure on the top surface and increasing the
pressure on the bottom surface. This difference in pressure provides the lift
that keeps the airplane in flight.

Simulation of the airflow over a wing in a wind tunnel, with colored "smoke" to
show the acceleration and deceleration of the air.

How does the lift produces:

From Newton law-So, how does a wing generate lift? To begin to understand
lift we must return to high school physics and review Newton’s first and
third laws. (We will introduce Newton’s second law a little later.) Newton’s
first law states a body at rest will remain at rest, or a body in motion will
continue in straight-line motion unless subjected to an external applied
force. That means, if one sees a bend in the flow of air, or if air originally at
rest is accelerated into motion, there is a force acting on it. Newton’s third
law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As
an example, an object sitting on a table exerts a force on the table (its
weight) and the table puts an equal and opposite force on the object to hold
it up. In order to generate lift a wing must do something to the air. What the
wing does to the air is the action while lift is the reaction.

Let’s compare two figures used to show streams of air (streamlines) over a
wing. In figure 3 the air comes straight at the wing, bends around it, and then
leaves straight behind the wing. We have all seen similar pictures, even in
flight manuals. But, the air leaves the wing exactly as it appeared ahead of
the wing. There is no net action on the air so there can be no lift! Figure 4
shows the streamlines, as they should be drawn. The air passes over the
wing and is bent down. The bending of the air is the action. The reaction is
the lift on the wing.

Common depiction of airflow over a wing. This wing has no lift.

True airflow over a wing with lift, showing upwash and downwash.
How does an Airplane Fly?

Forces on an Airplane in Flight

The four aerodynamic forces that act upon an airplane in flight are lift (the upward
acting force), weightgravity, the downward acting force), thrust (the forward acting
force), and drag (the air resistance or backward acting force). These four forces are
continuously battling each other while an airplane is in flight. (or



Gravity opposes lift, thrust opposes drag. In order to take off, the aircraft's thrust
and lift must be suffucient to overcome its weight and drag. In level flight at
constant speed, thrust exactly equals drag and lift exactly equals the pull of gravity.
To land, an aircraft's thrust must be reduced safely below its drag, as its lift is
reduced to levels less than its weight.

How an Airplane Generates Lift

Lift is the aerodynamic force that counteracts gravity and holds an airplane in the
air. Most of the lift required by an airplane is created by its wings, but a certain
portion is also generated by other parts of the aircraft, such as the fuselage. But
what actually causes the lift to be created?
First, understand that air is a fluid, just like water, and that all fluids adhere to the
same physical and mathematical principles. Next, realize that lift can only be
generated when a fluid is in motion. For example, a wing must be passing through
the air or the air must be moving around a stationary wing, one or the other. (The
way it usually happens is that the wing is doing most of the moving, although the air
may be moving too, at the same time.)



Cross-section of Airplane Wing

Most airplane wings have a special, basic shape as viewed edge-on: their upper
surfaces are curved and their lower surfaces are flatter. This shape is what works
with the fluid motion of the air to create lift. As air moves around a wing, some goes
over the top and some goes underneath. The air that goes over the curved upper
surface undergoes two important changes: it is reduced in pressure (by the
centrifugal force of flowing across the curved surface) and it is accelerated
downward (as it leaves the trailing edge of the wing). The wing is forced into the
region of reduced air pressure above the upper surface of the wing by the higher air
pressure beneath the wing. Also, the downward acceleration of the air (downwash)
at the trailing edge forces the wing upward.

Since lift is dependant on the motion of the air, it increases as the speed of the air
increases. Lift also increases (to a point) as the angle that the wing makes with the
airflow (known as the angle of attack) increases. Past a certain point, however,
increased angle of attack will cause the wing to suddenly lose its lifting ability, or

Control Surfaces and Maneuvering

An airplane in flight moves around three axes of rotation: longitudinal axis, lateral
axis, and vertical axis. These axes are imaginary lines that run perpendicularly to
each other through the center of gravity of the airplane. Rotation around the
longitudinal axis (the line from the nose of the plane to the tail) is called roll.
Rotation around the lateral axis (the line from wingtip to wingtip) is called pitch.
Rotation around the vertical axis (the line from beneath to above the plane) is called
yaw. The pilot guides and controls the aircraft by controlling its pitch, roll, and yaw
via the control surfaces. These include the ailerons, elevators, and rudder.

Basic Control Surfaces on an Airplane


The ailerons on an airplane's wings control roll around the longitudinal axis. They
work together, simultaneously, tied to the control wheel, or stick, in the cockpit.
When the control wheel is turned left, the aileron on the left wing goes up and the
one on the right wing goes down. The opposite occurs when the wheel is turned
right. But how does this make the airplane roll?

The ailerons alter the lifting ability of the wings slightly. When an aileron is
lowered, the lift on the outer portion of that wing increases, causing that wing to rise
a little. When an aileron is raised, the lift on the outer portion of that wing is
decreased slightly, causing that wing to drop a little. Since the ailerons on an
airplane work together, their action causes the airplane to roll.

aileron neutral, normal lift

aileron lowered, increased lift

aileron raised, decreased lift


The elevators on the horizontal portion of the tail of an airplane control the pitch of
the plane, or its motion around the lateral axis. They are also tied to the control
wheel in the cockpit. When the wheel is pulled back, the elevators move upward,
causing the tail of the plane to move downward and the nose to pitch upward. When
the wheel is pushed forward, the elevators move downward, causing the tail of the
plane to rise and the nose to pitch downward.

The elevators work like the ailerons on the wings, in that they cause changes in the
lift generated by the tail of the plane. Also, the elevators work together,
simultaneously, like the ailerons, but they do not work in opposition to one another.
Both go up when the control wheel is pulled back and both go down when the
control wheel is pushed forward.

elevator raised, reduced lift, tail goes down, nose goes

elevator neutral (centered)

elevator lowered, increased lift, tail goes up, nose goes



The rudder on the rear edge of the vertical fin on the airplane's tail controls yaw
around the vertical axis. It is connected to the pedals at the pilot's feet. Pushing the
right pedal causes the rudder to deflect to the right. This makes the tail of the
airplane move toward the left, causing the nose to move to the right. Pushing the left
pedal makes the rudder deflect to the left, the tail moves to the right, and the nose
points to the left.
rudder left, tail right

rudder neutral (centered)

rudder right, tail left

Although the rudder pedals and control wheel in the cockpit are not linked together,
they must be used simultaneously to control the plane. The pilot guides the airplane
by careful and precise movements of the control wheel and rudder pedals, as well as
adjusting the thrust of the aircraft.

How Does an Airplane Produce Thrust?

Thrust is the force created by a power source that overcomes the airplane's
aerodynamic drag (its resistance to passing through the air) and gives it forward
motion. This force can either "pull" or "push" the aircraft forward, depending on
the type of power source used. Common types include reciprocating (piston-
powered) engines driving propellers, and jet engines.

Reciprocating Engines with Propellers

A reciprocating engine is an internal-combustion engine in which pistons moving

back and forth act upon a crankshaft to create rotational movement. (This is the
same type of engine that powers most family cars.) A mixture of fuel and air is
compressed by the pistons, an electric spark causes the mixture to explode, driving
the pistons downward. This motion is transferred to the crankshaft by connecting
rods. The rotating crankshaft turns the propeller.
A propeller is a type of airfoil (similar to a wing) that turns and accelerates air. As
the blades of the propeller rotate they create lifting forces just as a wing does, only
working in the horizontal plane instead of the vertical as with wings. Thus, the
propeller creates a propulsive force perpendicular to its plane of rotation that moves
the aircraft forward as a reaction. Props can either "pull" the aircraft from their
position on the front of the wings or fuselage, or "push" it from behind, or both.

Jet Engines

A jet engine is any engine that ejects a jet or stream of gas or fluid, thereby
obtaining thrust in reaction to the ejection force. A jet aircraft engine obtains
oxygen from the atmosphere for the combustion of its fuel, creating thrust in
reaction to the rapid exhaust of the combustion products. There are several types of
jet engines. Some are briefly described below.


A turbojet engine is a jet engine that incorporates a turbine-driven compressor to

take in and compress air for the combustion of fuel. The exhaust from the
combustion drives the turbine and creates the thrust-producing jet.

A turbofan engine is a turbojet engine in which additional thrust is gained by

extending a portion of the compressor or turbine blades outside the inner engine
casing. These extended blades propel bypass air around the engine core, between the
inner and outer engine casings. This air is not combusted but does provide
additional thrust since it is compressed by the blades.

Basic Turbofan Engine


A turboprop engine is a turbojet engine in which a portion of the exhaust energy is

used to drive a propeller. The engine's thrust is therefore generated by a
combination of the propeller's thrust and the jet exhaust from the engine.

Basic Turboprop Engine


A ramjet engine is the simplest type of jet engine since it has no moving parts. The
engine is basically a specially-shaped duct open at both ends, with the air necessary
for combustion being compressed by the forward motion of the engine. Fuel is
sprayed into the airstream and the mixture is ignited. The high-pressure air coming
into the combustion chamber keeps the reaction from going back toward the inlet.
Combustion Chamber

Air Exhaus
Intak t
e nozzle

Fuel injectors/ignition grid

Basic Ramjet Engine

Ramjet engines cannot operate under static conditions. In order to function, they
have to already be traveling through the air at slightly over the speed of sound. (The
speed of sound is somewhat over 740 miles per hour at sea level.) This means that
the aircraft using them must first get up to the required speed using some other type
of propulsion, then start the ramjets. They can operate at up to five times the speed
of sound.


A scramjet, or "supersonic combustion ramjet", engine is similar to a ramjet, but is

designed to operate at well over five times the speed of sound, or at hypersonic
velocities. As with ramjets, aircraft powered by scramjets must first be brought up
to required speed by some other means of propulsion. Unlike ramjets, which slow
the supersonic airstream entering the inlet to subsonic speeds before combustion, a
scramjet combusts the supersonic airstream without slowing it.