Aircraft can be categorized based on a wide variety of factors; weight, size, shape, model, etc. The FAA offers class ratings which allow pilots to fly a certain group of aircraft that require similar training. There are seven categories of aircraft under the FAA’s class ratings. The different categories are airplane, rotorcraft, powered lift, glider, lighter than air, powered parachute, and weight-shift-control aircraft. One of the simplest categorizations is the difference between fixed and rotary wing aircraft.
Fixed wing aircraft generate forward thrust. Wings generate lift as the result of the aircraft’s speed and the shape of the wing. The wings are not always static, and the aircraft is not always flown by a pilot. Some examples of unmanned fixed wing aircraft include kites and gliders, and examples of manned fixed wing aircraft are an airplane and a seaplane. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are offered in both configurations. The airframe of a fixed wing aircraft often consists of horizontal wings, a fuselage, a vertical stabilizer, a horizontal stabilizer, and aircraft landing gear components. There are several different aircraft designs that do not include some of these components. Flying wing aircraft have no tail or definite fuselage. Blended wing bodies have wings that blend into the fuselage which produces more lift and less drag. A lifting body aircraft is the opposite of a flying wing aircraft in that it includes a fuselage that generates lift and the flying wing is basically a large wing with no fuselage.
Rotary wing aircraft generate vertical thrust. The blades of the rotor are like rotating wings. They create lift by diverting the air downwards. Examples of a rotary wing aircraft, or rotorcraft, are helicopters, autogyros, gyrodynes, and rotor kites. Helicopter rotors are driven by the engine and often require an anti-torque device. Autogyros have an engine-powered propeller to generate thrust and an unpowered rotor which is driven by autorotation. Gyrodyne rotors are powered by the engine for takeoff and landing but they use propellers that are mounted on small wings to generate forward flight. The propellers act as anti-torque devices against the rotary blades. A rotor kite is similar to a glider because it is not powered by an engine and therefore has to be dropped from another aircraft— a glider is towed. Once dropped, it then uses autorotation to keep aloft.
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