For all their complexity, the principles that guide an aircraft’s design are fairly simple to understand. All aircraft, no matter how esoteric they may seem, are designed around three basic principles: lift, thrust, and control.
Lift is the force that, as the name implies, lifts the aircraft up and keeps it in the air. Lift must exceed the combined weight of the aircraft, passengers, fuel, and cargo. Lift is generated by the aircraft’s wings as they travel through the air and generate pressure beneath their lower surface, which pushes the aircraft up. Moving through the air creates drag however, so aircraft use a variety of ways to reduce their drag, such as having a smooth surface on their exterior and small vertical winglets on the tips of the wings. The wings attach to the sides of the fuselage, the main body of the aircraft where the crew, passengers, and cargo are placed.
Thrust is provided by the aircraft’s engines, which overcome drag and push the aircraft forward through the air. Engines take the form of either piston engines (similar to those in automobiles) that spin a connected propeller or compressed-air turbine engines.
The last major principle is control. Control of the aircraft is based on three different axes: pitch, roll, and yaw. Pitch is the level the aircraft’s nose is pointed at and determines if the aircraft is climbing or diving. Pitch is controlled by the aircraft’s horizontal stabilizer, which is built into the aircraft’s tail at the back of the fuselage. Roll is the tilt of the wings to one way or the other, and is controlled by the ailerons, a pair of control surfaces that allow the aircraft to turn left or right. Lastly, yaw is when the aircraft’s nose (and therefore the direction it is travelling in) is pushed left or right, which is controlled by the vertical stabilizer in the tail’s trailing edge.
There are other control surfaces as well. Flaps are placed on the trailing edges of the wings and are used during takeoff and landing. By deploying the flaps, the shape of the wing is changed, increasing their lift and maintaining flight control during takeoff and landing. This is very useful during low-speed operations, such as takeoff and landing. Slats at the leading edge of the wing fulfill a similar role. Lastly, spoilers are built into the tops of the wings and are also used to alter the lift and drag properties of the wings and can be used to control roll as well.
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