Friday, November 14, 2008


The preceding sections only briefly considered some of the practical points of the principles of flight. To become a pilot, a detailed technical course in the science of aerodynamics is not necessary. However, with responsibilities for the safety of passengers, the competent pilot must have a well-founded concept of the forces which act on the airplane, and the advantageous use of these forces, as well as the operating limitations of the particular airplane. Any force applied to an airplane to deflect its flight from a straight line produces a stress on its structure; the amount of this force is termed “load factor.”

Aload factor is the ratio of the total airload acting on the airplane to the gross weight of the airplane. For example, a load factor of 3 means that the total load on an airplane’s structure is three times its gross weight. Load factors are usually expressed in terms of “G”—that is, a load factor of 3 may be spoken of as 3 G’s, or a load factor of 4 as 4 G’s.

It is interesting to note that in subjecting an airplane to 3 G’s in a pullup from a dive, one will be pressed down into the seat with a force equal to three times the person’s weight. Thus, an idea of the magnitude of the load factor obtained in any maneuver can be determined by considering the degree to which one is pressed down into the seat. Since the operating speed of modern airplanes has increased significantly, this effect has become so pronounced that it is a primary consideration in the design of the structure for all airplanes.

With the structural design of airplanes planned to withstand only a certain amount of overload, a knowledge of load factors has become essential for all pilots. Load factors are important to the pilot for two distinct reasons:

  • Because of the obviously dangerous overload that is possible for a pilot to impose on the airplane structures; and
  • Because an increased load factor increases the stalling speed and makes stalls possible at seemingly safe flight speeds.
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