An aircraft is a
vehiclewhich is able to fly through the Earth's atmosphereor through any other atmosphere. Rocketvehicles are not aircraft if they are not supported by the surrounding air. All the humanactivity which surrounds aircraft is called " aviation".
Manned aircraft are flown by a pilot. Until the 1960s, unmanned aircraft were called "drones". During the 1960s, the U.S. military brought the term "remotely piloted vehicle" (RPV) into use. More recently the term "
unmanned aerial vehicle" (UAV) has become common.
Kinds of aircraft
Lighter than air—aerostats
Aerostats use buoyancyto float in the air in much the same way that ships float on the water. They are characterized by one or more large gasbags or canopies, filled with a relatively low density gas such as helium, hydrogenor hot air, which is less dense than the surrounding air. When the weight of this is added to the weight of the aircraft structure, it adds up to the same weight as the air that the craft displaces.
Small hot air balloons called sky lanterns date back to the 3rd century BC and were only the second type of aircraft to fly, the first being
Originally a balloon was any aerostat, while the term
airshipwas used for large powered aircraft designs—usually fixed-wing—though none had yet been built. The advent of powered balloons, called dirigible balloons, and later of rigid hulls allowing a great increase in size, began to change the way these words were used. Huge powered aerostats, characterized by a rigid outer framework and separate aerodynamic skin surrounding the gas bags, were produced, the Zeppelins being the largest and most famous. There were still no aeroplanes or non-rigid balloons large enough to be called airships, so "airship" came to be synonymous with these monsters. Then several accidents, such as the Hindenburg disasterin 1937, led to the demise of these airships. Nowadays a "balloon" is an unpowered aerostat, whilst an "airship" is a powered one.
A powered, steerable aerostat is called a "
dirigible". Sometimes this term is applied only to non-rigid balloons, and sometimes "dirigible balloon" is regarded as the definition of an airship (which may then be rigid or non-rigid). Non-rigid dirigibles are characterized by a moderately aerodynamic gasbag with stabilizing fins at the back. These soon became known as "blimps". During the Second World War, this shape was widely adopted for tethered balloons; in windy weather this both reduces the strain on the tether and stabilizes the balloon. The nickname "blimp" was adopted along with the shape. In modern times any small dirigible or airship is called a blimp, though a blimp may be unpowered as well as powered.
Heavier than air—aerodynes
Heavier-than-air aircraft must find some way to push air or gas downwards, so that a reaction occurs (by Newton's laws of motion) to push the aircraft upwards. This dynamic movement through the air is the origin of the term "aerodyne". There are two ways to produce dynamic upthrust: aerodynamic lift, and
powered liftin the form of engine thrust.
Aerodynamic lift is the most common, with aeroplanes being kept in the air by the forward movement of wings, and
rotorcraftby spinning wing-shaped rotors sometimes called rotary wings. A wing is a flat, horizontal surface, usually shaped in cross-section as an aerofoil. To fly, the wing must move forwards through the air; this movement of air over the aerofoil shape deflects air downward to create an equal and opposite upward force, called lift, according to Newton's third law of motion. A "flexible wing" is a wing made of fabric or thin sheet material, often stretched over a rigid frame. A " kite" is tethered to the ground and relies on the speed of the wind over its wings, which may be flexible or rigid, fixed or rotary.
With powered lift, the aircraft directs its engine thrust vertically downwards.
The initialism "
VTOL" (vertical take off and landing) is applied to aircraft that can take off and land vertically. Most are rotorcraft. Others, such as the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, take off and land vertically using powered lift and transfer to aerodynamic lift in steady flight. Similarly, " STOL" stands for short take off and landing. Some VTOL aircraft often operate in a short take off/vertical landing regime known as STOVL.
rocketis not usually regarded as an aerodyne, because it does not depend on the air for its lift (and can even fly into space), however many aerodynamic lift vehicles have been powered or assisted by rocket motors. Rocket-powered missiles which obtain aerodynamic lift at very high speed due to airflow over their bodies, are a marginal case.
"Aeroplanes" or "airplanes" are technically called "
The forerunner of the aeroplane is the
kite. Whereas an aeroplane relies on its forward speed to create airflow over the wings, a kite is tethered to the ground and relies on the windblowing over its wings to provide lift. Kites were the first kind of aircraft to fly, and were invented in Chinaaround 500 BC. Much aerodynamic research was done with kites before test aircraft, wind tunnels and computer modelling programs became available.
The first heavier-than-air craft capable of controlled free flight were unpowered aeroplanes or
gliders. A glider designed by Cayley carried out the first true manned, controlled flight in 1853.
Besides the method of propulsion, aeroplanes are generally characterized by their
wing configuration. The most important wing characteristics are:
*Number of planes -
Monoplane, biplane, etc.
*Wing support - Braced or cantilever, rigid or flexible.
*Wing planform - including
aspect ratio, angle of sweep and any variations along the span. Includes the important class of delta wings.
*Location of the horizontal stabiliser, if any.
Dihedralangle - positive, zero or negative (anhedral).
variable geometryaircraft can change its wing configuration during flight.
flying wing" has no fuselage, though it may have small blisters or pods. The opposite of this is a " lifting body" which has no wings, though it may have small stabilising and control surfaces.
Seaplanes" are aircraft that land on water, and they differ in that some have the bottom of its fuselage shaped hydrodynamically and sits directly on the water when at rest (the flying boatwhile others have two or more floats attached below the rest of the aircraft so that the fuselage remains clear of the water at all times (floatplanes).
Some people consider wing-in-ground-effect vehicles to be aeroplanes, others do not. These craft "fly" close to the surface of the ground or water. An example is the Russian
ekranoplan(nicknamed the "Caspian Sea Monster"). Man-powered aircraft also rely on ground effect to remain airborne, but this is only because they are so underpowered - the airframe is theoretically capable of flying much higher. ( Hovercraftare not considered to be aircraft, since they rely wholly on the pressure of air on the ground beneath, and have no other lift mechanism).
Rotorcraft, or rotary-wing aircraft, use a spinning rotor with aerofoil section blades (a "rotary wing") to provide lift. Types include
helicopters, autogyros and various hybrids such as gyrodynes and compound rotorcraft.
Helicopters" have powered rotors. The rotor is driven (directly or indirectly) by an engine and pushes air downwards to create lift. By tilting the rotor forwards, the downwards flow is tilted backwards, producing thrust for forward flight.
Autogyros" or "gyroplanes" have unpowered rotors, with a separate power plant to provide thrust. The rotor is tilted backwards. As the autogyro moves forward, air blows upwards through it, making it spin.(cf. Autorotation) are unpowered autogyros, which must be towed by a tether to give them forward ground speed or else be tether-anchored to a static anchor in a high-wind situation for kited flight.
Gyrodynes" are a form of helicopter, where forward thrust is obtained from a separate propulsion device rather than from tilting the rotor. The definition of a 'gyrodyne' has changed over the years, sometimes including equivalent autogyro designs. The most important characteristic is that in forward flight air does not flow significantly either up or down through the rotor disc but primarily across it. The "Heliplane" is a similar idea.
"Compound rotorcraft" have wings which provide some or all of the lift in forward flight. Compound helicopters and compound autogyros have been built, and some forms of gyroplane may be referred to as compound gyroplanes. "
Tiltrotor" aircraft (such as the V-22 Osprey) have their rotors horizontal for vertical flight, and pivot the rotors vertically like a propellerfor forward flight. The " Coleopter" had a cylindrical wing forming a duct around the rotor. On the ground it sat on its tail, and took off and landed vertically like a helicopter. The whole aircraft would then have tilted forward to fly as a propeller-driven aeroplane using the duct as a wing (though this transition was never achieved in practice.)
Some rotorcraft have reaction-powered rotors with gas jets at the tips, but most have one or more lift rotors powered from engine-driven shafts.
Other methods of lift
lifting body" is the opposite of a flying wing. In this configuration the aircraft body is shaped to produce lift. If there are any wings, they are too small to provide significant lift and are used only for stability and control. Lifting bodies are not efficient: they suffer from high drag and must also travel at high speed to generate enough lift to fly. Many of the research prototypes, such as the Martin-Marietta X-24, which led up to the Space Shuttlewere lifting bodies (though the shuttle itself is not), and some supersonic missiles obtain lift from the airflow over a tubular body.
Powered lifts" rely entirely on engine thrust to hold them up in the air. There are few practical applications. Experimental designs have been built for personal fan-lift hover platforms and jetpacks or for VTOLresearch (for example the flying bedstead). VTOLjet aircraft such as the Harrier jump-jet take off and land vertically in powered-lift configuration, then transition to conventional configuration for forward flight.
FanWing" is a recent innovation and represents a completely new class of aircraft. This uses a fixed wing with a cylindrical fan mounted spanwise just above. As the fan spins, it creates an airflow backwards over the upper surface of the wing, creating lift. The fan wing is (2005) in development in the United Kingdom.
Some types of aircraft, such as
balloons, kites and gliders, do not have any propulsion.
Balloons drift with the wind, though normally the pilot can control the altitude either by heating the air or by releasing ballast, giving some directional control (since the wind direction changes with altitude). A wing-shaped hybrid balloon can glide directionally when rising or falling; but a spherically-shaped balloon does not have such directional control.
Kites are tethered to the ground or other object (fixed or mobile) or other means that maintains tension in the
kite line; and rely on virtual or real wind blowing over and under them to generate lift and drag. Kytoons are balloon kites that are shaped and tethered to obtain kiting deflections, and can be lighter-than-air, neutrally buoyant, or heavier-than air.
Gliders gain their initial flying speed from some launch mechanism, and then gain additional energy from gravity and from updrafts such as thermal currents. Takeoff may be by launching forwards and downwards from a high location, or by pulling into the air on a towline, by a ground-based winch or vehicle, or by a powered "tug" aircraft. For a glider to maintain its forward air speed and lift, it must descend in relation to the air (but not necessarily in relation to the ground). The first practical, controllable example was designed and built by the British scientist and pioneer
George Cayleywho is universally recognised as the first aeronautical engineer.
propellercomprises a set of small, wing-like aerofoils set around a central hub which spins on an axis aligned in the direction of travel. Spinning the propeller creates aerodynamic lift, or thrust, in a forward direction. A "contra-prop" arrangement has a second propeller close behind the first one on the same axis, which rotates in the opposite direction.
A "tractor" design mounts the propeller in front of the power source, and a "pusher" design mounts it behind. Although the pusher design allows cleaner airflow over the wing, tractor configuration is more common because it allows cleaner airflow to the propeller and provides a better weight distribution.
A variation on the propeller is to use many broad blades to create a fan. Such fans are traditionally surrounded by a ring-shaped fairing or duct, as "ducted fans".
Many kinds of power plant have been used to drive propellers.
The earliest designs used man power to give
dirigibleballoons some degree of control, and go back to Jean-Pierre Blanchardin 1784. Attempts to achieve heavier-than-air manpowered flight did not succeed until Paul MacCready's Gossamer Condorin 1977.
The first powered flight was made in a steam-powered dirigible by
Henri Giffardin 1852. Attempts to marry a practical lightweight steam engineto a practical fixed-wing airframe did not succeed until much later, by which time the internal combustion engine was already dominant.
From the first powered aeroplane flight by the
Wright brothersuntil World War II, propellers turned by the internal combustion piston engine were virtually the only type of propulsion system in use. (See also: Aircraft engine.) The piston engine is still used in the majority of smaller aircraft produced, since it is efficient at the lower altitudes and slower speeds suited to propellers.
Turbine engines need not be used as jets (see below), but may be geared to drive a propeller in the form of a
turboprop. Modern helicopters also typically use turbine engines to power the rotor. Turbines provide more power for less weight than piston engines, and are better suited to small-to-medium size aircraft or larger, slow-flying types. Some turboprop designs (see below) mount the propeller directly on an engine shaft, and are called propfans.
Since the 1940s, propellers and propfans with swept tips or curved "scimitar-shaped" blades have been studied for use in high-speed applications so as to delay the onset of shockwaves, in similar manner to wing sweepback, where the blade tips approach the speed of sound. The
Airbus A400Mturboprop transport aircraft is expected to provide the first production example: note that it is not a propfan because the propellers are not mounted direct on the engine shaft but are driven through reduction gearing.
Other less common power sources include:
*Electric motors, often linked to solar panels to create a solar-powered aircraft.
*Rubber bands, wound many times to store energy, are mostly used for flying models.
jet engines provide thrust by taking in air, burning it with fuel in a combustion chamber, and accelerating the exhaust rearwards so that it ejects at high speed. The reaction against this acceleration provides the engine thrust.
Jet engines can provide much higher thrust than propellers, and are naturally efficient at higher altitudes, being able to operate above convert|40000|ft|m|abbr=on. They are also much more fuel-efficient than
rockets. Consequently, nearly all high-speed and high-altitude aircraft use jet engines.
turbojetand modern turbofanuse a spinning turbine to create airflow for takeoff and to provide thrust. Many, mostly in military aviation, use afterburnerswhich inject extra fuel into the exhaust.
Use of a turbine is not absolutely necessary: other designs include the crude pulse jet, high-speed
ramjetand the still-experimental supersonic-combustion ramjet or scramjet. These designs require an existing airflow to work and cannot work when stationary, so they must be launched by a catapult or rocket booster, or dropped from a mother ship. The bypass turbofan engines of the Lockheed SR-71 were a hybrid design - the aircraft took off and landed in jet turbine configuration, and for high-speed flight the turbine was bypassed and the afterburners used to create a ramjet.
motorjetwas a very early design which used a piston engine in place of the combustion chamber, similar to a turbocharged piston engine except that the thrust is derived from the turbine rather than the crankshaft. It was soon superseded by the turbojet and remained a curiosity.
The rotor of a
Helicoptermay, like a propeller, be powered by a variety of methods such as an internal-combustion engine or jet turbine. Tip jets, fed by gases passing along hollow rotor blades from a centrally-mounted engine, have been experimented with. Attempts have even been made to mount engines directly on the rotor tips. Helicopters obtain forward propulsion by angling the rotor disc so that a proportion of its lift is directed forwards to provide thrust.
Other forms of propulsion
Rocket-powered aircraft" have occasionally been experimented with, and the Messerschmitt "Komet" fighter even saw action in the Second World War. Since then they have been restricted to rather specialised niches, such as the Bell X-1which broke the sound barrier or the North American X-15which travelled up into space where no oxygen is available for combustion (rockets carry their own oxidant). Rockets have more often been used as a supplement to the main powerplant, typically to assist takeoff of heavily-loaded aircraft, but also in a few experimental designs such as the Saunders-Roe SR.53to provide a high-speed dash capability.
*The flapping-wing "
ornithopter" is a category of its own. These designs may have potential, but no practical device has been created beyond research prototypes, simple toys, and a model hawk used to freeze prey into stillness so that it can be captured.
Classification by use
The major distinction in aircraft types is between
military aircraft, which includes not just combat types but many types of supporting aircraft, and civil aircraft, which include all non-military types.
Combat aircraft divide broadly into fighters and
bombers, with several in-between types such as fighter-bombers and ground-attack aircraft(including attack helicopters).
Other supporting roles are carried out by specialist patrol, search and rescue, reconnaissance, observation, transport, training and Tanker aircraft among others.
Many civil aircraft, both fixed wing and rotary, have been produced in separate models for military use, such as the civil
Douglas DC-3airliner, which became the military C-47/C-53/R4D transport in the U.S. military and the "Dakota" in the UK and the Commonwealth. Even the small fabric-covered two-seater Piper J3 Cub had a military version, the L-4 liaison, observation and trainer aircraft. Gliders and balloons have also been used as military aircraft; for example, balloons were used for observation during the American Civil Warand World War I, and cargo gliders were used during World War IIto land troops.
Civil aircraft divide into "commercial" and "general" types, however in practice there is some overlap.
Commercial aircraft include types designed for scheduled and charter
airlineflights, carrying both passengers and cargo. The larger passenger-carrying types are often referred to as airliners. Some of the smaller types are also used in general aviation.
General aviationis a catch-all covering other kinds of private and commercial use, and involving a wide range of aircraft types such as business jets (bizjets), trainers, homebuilt, aerobatic types, racers, firefighters, medical transports (medevac), and cargo transports, to name a few. The vast majority of aircraft today are general aviation types.
Within general aviation, there is a further distinction between private aircraft (where the pilot is not paid for time or expenses) and commercial aircraft (where the pilot is paid by a client or employer). Private aircraft are usually light passenger, business, or recreational types. Usually the pilot owns or rents the aircraft. Commercial types in general aviation may be put to a wide range of tasks, such as flight training, pipeline surveying, passenger and freight transport, policing, crop dusting, and medevac flights.
Piston-powered propeller aircraft (single-engine or twin-engine) are especially common for both private and commercial general aviation, but even private pilots occasionally own and operate helicopters like the Bell JetRanger or turboprops like the
Beechcraft King Air. Business jets are typically flown by commercial pilots, although there is a new generation of small jets arriving soon for private pilots. Another small but important class of private aircraft are the historical warbirds.
Experimental aircraftare one-off specials, built to explore some aspect of aircraft design and with no other useful purpose. The Bell X-1rocket plane, which first broke the sound barrier in level flight, is a famous example.
The formal designation of "experimental aircraft" also includes other types which are "not certified for commercial applications", including one-off modifications of existing aircraft such as the modified Boeing 747 which NASA uses to ferry the space shuttle from landing site to launch site, and aircraft homebuilt by amateurs for their own personal use.
model aircraftis a small unmanned type made to fly for fun, for static display, for aerodynamic research (cf Reynolds number) or for other purposes. A scale modelis a replica of some larger design.
Timeline of aviation
Manufacturers and types
Within any general category, aircraft are usually listed according to manufacturer and production type.:"See also:
List of aircraft"
List of aircraft by category
**List of Airliners by Historical Epoch
List of civil aircraft
List of early flying machines
List of helicopter models
List of large aircraft
**List of military aircraft
**List of Regional Airliners
**List of World War II jet aircraft
List of aircraft by date and usage category
List of aircraft engines
List of altitude records reached by different aircraft types
* Aerial refuelling
* Airline call signs
* Air transports of Heads of State
First flying machine
* Flight controls
Future aircraft developments
Personal air vehicle
* Flying car/roadable aircraft
General aviation in Europe
* [http://www.nasm.si.edu/ Smithsonian Air and Space Museum] - Excellent online collection with a particular focus on history of aircraft and spacecraft
* [http://invention.psychology.msstate.edu/Tale_of_Airplane/taleplane.html Virtual Museum]
* [http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Prehistory/PH-OV.htm Prehistory of Powered Flight]
* [http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/SP-468/contents.htm The Evolution of Modern Aircraft (NASA)]
* [http://www.atmitchell.com/journeys/history/aviation/ History of Aviation in Australia - State Library of NSW]
* [http://www.doktus.de/dok/39023/the-channel-crossing.html The Channel Crossing]
* [http://www.airliners.net/info/ Airliners.net]
* [http://www.newscientist.com/channel/mech-tech/aviation Everything you wanted to know about Aviation] —Provided by "
* [http://www.aviationdictionary.org/ Aviation Dictionary] Free aviation terms, phrases and jargons
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