Aviation News

Flight Training

Aviation History

Theory Of Flight



Civilian Aircraft

Military Aircraft

Aviation Wallpapers

Aviation Links





Airfoils and Lift

An airfoil is a device which gets a useful reaction from air moving over its surface. When an airfoil is moved through the air, it is capable of producing lift. Wings, horizontal tail surfaces, vertical tails surfaces, and propellers are all examples of airfoils.

Generally the wing of small aircraft will look like the cross-section of the figure above. The forward part of an airfoil is rounded and is called the leading edge. The aft part is narrow and tapered and is called the trailing edge. A reference line often used in discussing airfoils is the chord, an imaginary straight line joining the extremities of the leading and trailing edges.

Angle of Incidence: The angle of incidence is the angle formed by the longitudinal axis of the airplane and the chord of the wing. The longitudinal axis is an imaginary line that extends lengthwise through the fuselage from nose to tail. The angle of incidence is measured by the angle at which the wing is attached to the fuselage. The angle of incidence is fixed. It normally cannot be changed by the pilot.

Bernoulli's Principle: To understand how lift is produced, we must examine a phenomenon discovered many years ago by the scientist Bernoulli and later called Bernoulli's Principle: The pressure of a fluid (liquid or gas) decreases at points where the speed of the fluid increases. In other words, Bernoulli found that within the same fluid, in this case air, high speed flow is associated with low pressure, and low speed flow with high pressure. This principle was first used to explain changes in the pressure of fluid flowing within a pipe whose cross-sectional area varied. In the wide section of the gradually narrowing pipe, the fluid moves at low speed, producing high pressure. As the pipe narrows it must contain the same amount of fluid. In this narrow section, the fluid moves at high speed, producing low pressure.

An important application of this phenomenon is made in giving lift to the wing of an airplane, an airfoil. The airfoil is designed to increase the velocity of the airflow above its surface, thereby decreasing pressure above the airfoil. Simultaneously, the impact of the air on the lower surface of the airfoil increases the pressure below. This combination of pressure decrease above and increase below produces lift.

Lift: Probably you have held your flattened hand out of the window of a moving automobile. As you inclined your hand to the wind, the force of air pushed against it forcing your hand to rise. The airfoil (in this case, your hand) was deflecting the wind which, in turn, created an equal and opposite dynamic pressure on the lower surface of the airfoil, forcing it up and back. The upward component of this force is lift; the backward component is drag .


Pressure is reduced is due to the smaller space the air has above the wing than below. Air cannot go through the wing, so it must push around it. The surface air molecules push between the wing and outer layers of air. Due to the bump of the airfoil, the space is smaller and the molecules must go faster. According to Bernoulli's Law, faster air has lower air pressure, and thus the high pressure beneath the wing pushes up to cause lift.


Forces Acting on an Airplane

The airplane in straight-and-level unaccelerated flight is acted on by four forces. The four forces are lift, gravity, thrust and drag.

The airplane in straight-and-level unaccelerated flight is acted on by four forces--lift, the upward acting force; weight, or gravity, the downward acting force; thrust, the forward acting force; and drag, the backward acting, or retarding force of wind resistance.

Lift opposes gravity. Thrust opposes drag.

Drag and weight are forces inherent in anything lifted from the earth and moved through the air. Thrust and lift are artificially created forces used to overcome the forces of nature and enable an airplane to fly. The engine and propeller combination is designed to produce thrust to overcome drag. The wing is designed to produce lift to overcome the weight (or gravity).

In straight-and-level, unaccelerated flight, (Straight-and-level flight is coordinated flight at a constant altitude and heading) lift equals weight and thrust equals drag, though lift and weight will not equal thrust and drag. Any inequality between lift and weight will result in the airplane entering a climb or descent. Any inequality between thrust and drag while maintaining straight-and-level flight will result in acceleration or deceleration until the two forces become balanced.

Axes of Rotation

An airplane may turn about three axes. Whenever the attitude of the airplane changes in flight (with respect to the ground or other fixed object), it will rotate about one or more of these axes. Think of these axes as imaginary axles around which the airplane turns like a wheel. The three axes intersect at the center of gravity and each one is perpendicular to the other two.

Longitudinal Axis: The imaginary line that extends lengthwise through the fuselage, from nose to tail, is the longitudinal axis. Motion about the longitudinal axis is roll and is produced by movement of the ailerons located at the trailing edges of the wings.

Lateral Axis: The imaginary line which extends crosswise, wing tip to wing tip, is the lateral axis. Motion about the lateral axis is pitch and is produced by movement of the elevators at the rear of the horizontal tail assembly.

Vertical Axis: The imaginary line which passes vertically through the center of gravity is the vertical axis. Motion about the vertical axis is yaw and is produced by movement of the rudder located at the rear of the vertical tail assembly.

Flight Control Surfaces

The three primary flight controls are the ailerons, elevator and rudder.

Ailerons: The two ailerons, one at the outer trailing edge of each wing, are movable surfaces that control movement about the longitudinal axis. The movement is roll. Lowering the aileron on one wing raises the aileron on the other. The wing with the lowered aileron goes up because of its increased lift, and the wing with the raised aileron goes down because of its decreased lift. Thus, the effect of moving either aileron is aided by the simultaneous and opposite movement of the aileron on the other wing. Rods or cables connect the ailerons to each other and to the control wheel (or stick) in the cockpit. When pressure is applied to the right on the control wheel, the left aileron goes down and the right aileron goes up, rolling the airplane to the right. This happens because the down movement of the left aileron increases the wing camber (curvature) and thus increases the angle of attack. The right aileron moves upward and decreases the camber, resulting in a decreased angle of attack. Thus, decreased lift on the right wing and increased lift on the left wing cause a roll and bank to the right.

Elevators: The elevators control the movement of the airplane about its lateral axis. This motion is pitch. The elevators form the rear part of the horizontal tail assembly and are free to swing up and down. They are hinged to a fixed surface--the horizontal stabilizer. Together, the horizontal stabilizer and the elevators form a single airfoil. A change in position of the elevators modifies the camber of the airfoil, which increases or decreases lift.
Like the ailerons, the elevators are connected to the control wheel (or stick) by control cables. When forward pressure is applied on the wheel, the elevators move downward. This increases the lift produced by the horizontal tail surfaces. The increased lift forces the tail upward, causing the nose to drop. Conversely, when back pressure is applied on the wheel, the elevators move upward, decreasing the lift produced by the horizontal tail surfaces, or maybe even producing a downward force. The tail is forced downward and the nose up.
The elevators control the angle of attack of the wings. When back pressure is applied on the control wheel, the tail lowers and the nose raises, increasing the angle of attack. Conversely, when forward pressure is applied, the tail raises and the nose lowers, decreasing the angle of attack.

Rudder: The rudder controls movement of the airplane about its vertical axis. This motion is yaw. Like the other primary control surfaces, the rudder is a movable surface hinged to a fixed surface which, in this case, is the vertical stabilizer, or fin. Its action is very much like that of the elevators, except that it swings in a different plane--from side to side instead of up and down. Control cables connect the rudder to the rudder pedals.

Trim Tabs: A trim tab is a small, adjustable hinged surface on the trailing edge of the aileron, rudder, or elevator control surfaces. Trim tabs are labor saving devices that enable the pilot to release manual pressure on the primary controls.
Some airplanes have trim tabs on all three control surfaces that are adjustable from the cockpit; others have them only on the elevator and rudder; and some have them only on the elevator. Some trim tabs are the ground-adjustable type only.
The tab is moved in the direction opposite that of the primary control surface, to relieve pressure on the control wheel or rudder control. For example, consider the situation in which we wish to adjust the elevator trim for level flight. ("Level flight" is the attitude of the airplane that will maintain a constant altitude.) Assume that back pressure is required on the control wheel to maintain level flight and that we wish to adjust the elevator trim tab to relieve this pressure. Since we are holding back pressure, the elevator will be in the "up" position. The trim tab must then be adjusted downward so that the airflow striking the tab will hold the elevators in the desired position. Conversely, if forward pressure is being held, the elevators will be in the down position, so the tab must be moved upward to relieve this pressure. In this example, we are talking about the tab itself and not the cockpit control.
Rudder and aileron trim tabs operate on the same principle as the elevator trim tab to relieve pressure on the rudder pedals and sideward pressure on the control wheel, respectively.

Elevon: Delta winged aircraft can not use conventional 3 axis flight control systems because of their unique delta shape. Therefore, it uses a device called an elevon. It is a combination of ailerons and elevators.
The elevon is used as an aileron. Ailerons control motion along the longitudinal axis. The longitudinal axis is an imaginary line that runs from the nose to the tail. Motion about the longitudinal axis is called roll.
The elevon is also used as an elevator. Elevators control motion along the lateral axis. The lateral axis is an imaginary line that extends crosswise, from wingtip to wingtip. Motion about the lateral axis is called pitch.

Delta winged aircraft use elevons as primary flight controls for roll and pitch.

Laminar Flow Airfoil

Laminar Flow is the smooth, uninterrupted flow of air over the contour of the wings, fuselage, or other parts of an aircraft in flight. Laminar flow is most often found at the front of a streamlined body and is an important factor in flight. If the smooth flow of air is interrupted over a wing section, turbulence is created which results in a loss of lift and a high degree of drag. An airfoil designed for minimum drag and uninterrupted flow of the boundary layer is called a laminar airfoil.

The Laminar flow theory dealt with the development of a symmetrical airfoil section which had the same curvature on both the upper and lower surface. The design was relatively thin at the leading edge and progressively widened to a point of greatest thickness as far aft as possible. The theory in using an airfoil of this design was to maintain the adhesion of the boundary layers of airflow which are present in flight as far aft of the leading edge as possible. on normal airfoils the boundary layer would be interrupted at high speeds and the resultant break would cause a turbulent flow over the remainder of the foil. This turbulence would be realized as drag up the point of maximum speed at which time the control surfaces and aircraft flying characteristics would be affected. The formation of the boundary layer is a process of layers of air formed one next to the other, ie; the term laminar is derived from the lamination principle involved.

The flow next to any surface forms a "boundary layer", as the flow has zero velocity right at the surface and some distance out from the surface it flows at the same velocity as the local "outside" flow. If this boundary layer flows in parllel layers, with no energy transfer between layers, it is laminar. If there is energy transfer, it is turbulent.

All boundary layers start off as laminar. Many influences can act to destabilize a laminar boundary layer, causing it to transition to turbulent. Adverse pressure gradients, surface roughness, heat and acoustic energy all examples of destabilizing influences. Once the boundary layer transitions, the skin friction goes up. This is the primary result of a turbulent boundary layer. The old "lift loss" myth is just that - a myth.

A favorable pressure gradient is required to maintain laminar flow. Laminar flow airfoils are designed to have long favorable pressure gradients. All airfoils must have adverse pressure gradients on their aft end. The usual definition of a laminar flow airfoil is that the favorable pressure gradient ends somewhere between 30 and 75% of chord.

Now Consider the finish on your car in non-rainy conditions. Dust and leaves have settled on the hood's paint. We go for a drive. At once the leaves blow off. But the dust remains. We speed up. Even if we go very fast, the dust remains because of the thin layer of air that moves with the car. If you drive with dew on your car, the dew will not so quickly be blown dry where the air flow has this thin laminar layer. Downstream, where the laminar flow has become turbulent, the air flow quickly dries the dew.

In the fifties this was dramatically shown in a photograph of the top of a sailplane wing (inflight) that had dew on it. A few tiny seeds had landed on forward area the wing while on the ground. In flight these seeds, tiny though they were, reached through the laminar layer and caused micro-turbulence causing the dew to be blown dried in an expanding vee shaped area down stream of each tiny seed.

Profile drag

This comprises two components: surface friction drag and normal pressure drag (form drag).

Surface friction drag

This arises from the tangential stresses due to the viscosity or "stickiness" of the air. When air flows over any part of an aircraft there exists, immediately adjacent to the surface, a thin layer of air called the boundary layer, within which the air slows from its high velocity at the edge of the layer to a standstill at the surface itself. Surface friction drag depends upon the rate of change of velocity through the boundary layer, i.e. the velocity gradient. There are two types of boundary layer, laminar and turbulent, the essential features of which are shown in Fig 8. Although all combat aircraft surfaces develop a laminar boundary layer to start with, this rapidly becomes turbulent within a few per cent of the length of the surface. This leaves most of the aircraft immersed in a turbulent boundary layer, the thickness of which increases with length along the surface. The velocity and hence pressure variations along the length of any surface can have adverse effects on the behavior of the boundary layer, as will be discussed later.

Surface friction drag can amount to more than 30% of the total drag under cruise conditions.

Normal pressure drag (form drag)

This also depends upon the viscosity of the air and is related to flow separation. It is best explained by considering a typical pressure distribution over a wing section, as shown in Fig 4, first at low AOA and then at high AOA.

At low AOA the high pressures near the leading edge produce a component of force in the rearward (i.e. drag) direction, while the low pressures ahead of the maximum thickness point tend to suck the wing section forward, giving a thrust effect. The low pressures aft of the maximum thickness point tend to suck the wing rearwards, since they act on rearward-facing surfaces. Without the influence of the boundary layer, the normal pressure forces due to the above drag and thrust components would exactly cancel.

There is a favorable pressure gradient up to the minimum pressure point, with the pressure falling in the direction of flow. This helps to stabilize the boundary layer. Downstream of the minimum pressure point, however, the thickening boundary layer has to flow against an adverse pressure gradient. Viscous effects reduce momentum within the boundary layer, and the thickness of the layer further increases so that the external flow "sees" a body which does not appear to close to a point at the trailing edge. A narrow wake is formed as the boundary layer streams off the section. This prevents the pressures on the aft-facing surface of the wing section from recovering to the high value obtaining near the stagnation point on the leading edge, as they would have done if a boundary layer had not formed. There is thus a lower than expected pressure acting on the aftfacing surface, giving rise to normal pressure drag. In the low-AOA case this component is small, most of the profile drag being made up of surface friction drag.

As the AOA of the wing section is increased, the point of minimum pressure moves towards the leading edge, with increasingly high suction being achieved. This means that the pressure then has to rise by a greater extent downstream of the minimum pressure point and that the length of wing surface exposed to the rising pressure is increased. The resulting adverse pressure gradient becomes more severe as AOA is increased. This has serious implications for the boundary layer, which is always likely to separate from the wing surface under such conditions.

The Swept Wing


The whole idea of sweeping an aircraft's wing is to delay the drag rise caused by the formation of shock waves. The swept-wing concept had been appreciated by German aerodynamicists since the mid-1930s, and by 1942 a considerable amount of research had gone into it. However, in the United States and Great Britain, the concept of the swept wing remained virtually unknown until the end of the war. Due to the early research in this area, this allowed Germany to successfully introduce the swept wing in the jet fighter Messerschmitt ME-262 as early as 1941.

Early British and American jet aircraft were therefore of conventional straight-wing design, with a high-speed performance that was consequently limited. Such aircraft included the UKGloster Meteor F.4 , the U.S. Lockheed F-80 Sooting Star and the experimental U.S. jet, the Bell XP-59A Airacomet.

After the war German advanced aeronautical research data became available to the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) as well as Great Britain. This technology was then incorporated into their aircraft designs. Some early jets that took advantage of this technology were the North American F-86 Sabre, the Hawker Hunter F.4 and the Supermarine Swift FR.5.

Not to be outdone, the Soviet Union introduced the swept wing in the Mikoyan Mig-15 in 1947. This aircraft was the great rival of the North American F-86 Sabre during the Korean War.


Copyright 2003-Now www.airman.us All rights reserved. Reproduction in any form is prohibited.