How does an Airplane Fly?

Cara M


The Four Forces of Flight:

Friction and air make up drag. Thrust & drag are opposite forces. Lift & gravity are opposite forces. Thrust is caused by gravity. Gravity is represented by the weight of the airplane. Lift is an upward force created by the wings of the plane. Drag opposes the forward motion of the airplane. Thrust is the forward motion of the airplane. Propellers or jet engines create thrust. A plane moves forward when the thrust is greater than the drag. Airplanes move up when the lift is greater than the gravity. This is called an unbalanced force.

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Figure 1: The Four Forces of Flight

The Parts of an Airplane:

A glider is the simplest type of aircraft. (See Figure 2) Airplanes are steered by using flaps. They have a long body called a fuselage. Airplanes have two wings. The tail on an airplane helps control it while flying. Airplanes fly because of the shape of their wings. Plane wings are flat on the bottom and curved on the top, that shape is called airfoil. When air flows over the top of wing, it creates a low-pressure area called lift. Air pushes up on bottom of wing making even more lift. Planes can be powered by propellers or jet engines. All planes have movable surfaces on wings and tail called control surfaces. Pilots use a control stick to steer the plane in the direction they want it to fly. When pushing the control stick forward or backward it moves the elevators in the back of the plane. When pushing the control stick side to side it moves the ailerons on the back edge of wings (ailerons move in opposite directions) causing plane to move from one side to another. When pushing one of rudder pedals it causes the rudders (attached to plane's tail) to move. The shape of the wing is designed to deflect the air downward. The tail of the airplane has two small wings. (horizontal & vertical stabilizers) A propeller is a special spinning wing. Planes are aerodynamically shaped, with smooth surfaces & rounded edges.

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Figure 2: These are the parts of a glider.


Aerodynamically: Mechanics dealing with the motion of flight.

Ailerons: The flaps on the back edge of the wing. (See Figure 2)

Airfoil: The airplane’s wings are flat on the bottom and curved on top. That shape is called airfoil.

Control Stick: Pilot uses the control stick to steer the plane in the direction he wants it to go in.

Control Surfaces: Movable surfaces of the wings and tail of an airplane.

Flaps: Located on the end of the wings. They help steer the plane.

Fuselage: The body of an airplane. (See Figure 2)

Tail: Helps control the airplane while flying. Located in the back of the plane. (See Figure 2)

Wings: Are on the left and right side of the airplane. Airplanes have two wings. Make the airplane fly. (See Figure 2)

Citation List:

"airplane." Compton's by Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online School Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2012. Web. 24 Sept. 2012.

Brain, Marshall, Lamb, Robert, and Adkins, Brian. “How Airplanes Work.” How Stuff Works. HowStuffWorks, 1998-2012. Web. 27 Sept. 2012.

Brain, Marshall. Marshall Brain's how stuff works. New York: Hungry Minds, 2001. Print.

Macaulay, David. The new way things work. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998. Print.

The Four Forces of Flight: Gravity, Lift, Drag, and Thrust. Prod. Colgren Communications. Colgren Communications, 2003. Video.