Sunday, November 16, 2008


Any airplane, within the limits of its structure, may be stalled at any airspeed. When a sufficiently high angle of attack is imposed, the smooth flow of air over an airfoil breaks up and separates, producing an abrupt change of flight characteristics and a sudden loss of lift, which results in a stall.

A study of this effect has revealed that the airplane’s stalling speed increases in proportion to the square root of the load factor. This means that an airplane with a normal unaccelerated stalling speed of 50 knots can be stalled at 100 knots by inducing a load factor of 4 G’s. If it were possible for this airplane to withstand a load factor of 9, it could be stalled at a speed of 150 knots. Therefore, a competent pilot should be aware of the following:

The danger of inadvertently stalling the airplane by increasing the load factor, as in a steep turn or spiral; and
That in intentionally stalling an airplane above its design maneuvering speed, a tremendous load factor is imposed.

Reference to the charts in figures 3-36 and 3-37 will show that by banking the airplane to just beyond 72° in a steep turn produces a load factor of 3, and the stalling speed is increased significantly. If this turn is made in an airplane with a normal unaccelerated stalling speed of 45 knots, the airspeed must be kept above 75 knots to prevent inducing a stall. A similar effect is experienced in a quick pullup, or any maneuver producing load factors above 1 G. This has been the cause of accidents resulting from a sudden, unexpected loss of control, particularly in a steep turn or abrupt application of the back elevator control near the ground.

Since the load factor squares as the stalling speed doubles, it may be realized that tremendous loads may be imposed on structures by stalling an airplane at relatively high airspeeds.

The maximum speed at which an airplane may be stalled safely is now determined for all new designs. This speed is called the “design maneuvering speed” (VA) and is required to be entered in the FAA-approved Airplane Flight Manual or Pilot’s Operating Handbook (AFM/POH) of all recently designed airplanes. For older general aviation airplanes, this speed will be approximately 1.7 times the normal stalling speed. Thus, an older airplane which normally stalls at 60 knots must never be stalled at above 102 knots (60 knots x 1.7 = 102 knots). An airplane with a normal stalling speed of 60 knots will undergo, when stalled at 102 knots, a load factor equal to the square of the increase in speed or 2.89 G’s (1.7 x 1.7 = 2.89 G’s). (The above figures are an approximation to be considered as a guide and are not the exact answers to any set of problems. The design maneuvering speed should be determined from the particular airplane’s operating limitations when provided by the manufacturer.)

Since the leverage in the control system varies with different airplanes and some types employ “balanced” control surfaces while others do not, the pressure exerted by the pilot on the controls cannot be accepted as an index of the load factors produced in different airplanes. In most cases, load factors can be judged by the experienced pilot from the feel of seat pressure. They can also be measured by an instrument called an “accelerometer,” but since this instrument is not common in general aviation training airplanes, the development of the ability to judge load factors from the feel of their effect on the body is important. A knowledge of the principles outlined above is essential to the development of this ability to estimate load factors.

A thorough knowledge of load factors induced by varying degrees of bank, and the significance of design maneuvering speed (VA) will aid in the prevention of two of the most serious types of accidents:

Stalls from steep turns or excessive maneuvering near the ground; and
Structural failures during acrobatics or other violent maneuvers resulting from loss of control.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Cause of Load Factors Changes

Figure 3-36 reveals an important fact about turns— that the load factor increases at a terrific rate after a bank has reached 45° or 50°. The load factor for any airplane in a 60° bank is 2 G’s. The load factor in an 80° bank is 5.76 G’s. The wing must produce lift equal to these load factors if altitude is to be maintained.

It should be noted how rapidly the line denoting load factor rises as it approaches the 90° bank line, which it reaches only at infinity. The 90° banked, constant altitude turn mathematically is not possible. True, an airplane may be banked to 90° but not in a coordinated turn; an airplane which can be held in a 90° banked slipping turn is capable of straight knifeedged flight. At slightly more than 80°, the load factor exceeds the limit of 6 G’s, the limit load factor of an acrobatic airplane.

For a coordinated, constant altitude turn, the approximate maximum bank for the average general aviation airplane is 60°. This bank and its resultant necessary power setting reach the limit of this type of airplane. An additional 10° bank will increase the load factor by approximately 1 G, bringing it close to the yield point established for these airplanes. [Figure 3-36]

In a constant altitude, coordinated turn in any airplane, the load factor is the result of two forces: centrifugal force and gravity. [Figure 3-35] For any given bank angle, the rate of turn varies with the airspeed; the higher the speed, the slower the rate of turn. This compensates for added centrifugal force, allowing the load factor to remain the same.

Airplane Design Load Factors Problem

The problem of load factors in airplane design then reduces to that of determining the highest load factors that can be expected in normal operation under various operational situations. These load factors are called “limit load factors.” For reasons of safety, it is required that the airplane be designed to withstand these load factors without any structural damage. Although the Code of Federal Regulations requires that the airplane structure be capable of supporting one and one-half times these limit load factors without failure, it is accepted that parts of the airplane may bend or twist under these loads and that some structural damage may occur.

The answer to the question “how strong should an airplane be” is determined largely by the use to which the airplane will be subjected. This is a difficult problem, because the maximum possible loads are much too high for use in efficient design. It is true that any pilot can make a very hard landing or an extremely sharp pullup from a dive, which would result in abnormal loads. However, such extremely abnormal loads must be dismissed somewhat if airplanes are built that will take off quickly, land slowly, and carry a worthwhile payload.

This 1.5 value is called the “factor of safety” and provides, to some extent, for loads higher than those expected under normal and reasonable operation. However, this strength reserve is not something which pilots should willfully abuse; rather it is there for their protection when they encounter unexpected conditions.

The above considerations apply to all loading conditions, whether they be due to gusts, maneuvers, or landings. The gust load factor requirements now in effect are substantially the same as those that have been in existence for years. Hundreds of thousands of operational hours have proven them adequate for safety. Since the pilot has little control over gust load factors (except to reduce the airplane’s speed when rough air is encountered), the gust loading requirements are substantially the same for most general aviation type airplanes regardless of their operational use. Generally, the gust load factors control the design of airplanes which are intended for strictly nonacrobatic usage.

An entirely different situation exists in airplane design with maneuvering load factors. It is necessary to discuss this matter separately with respect to: (1) Airplanes which are designed in accordance with the Category System (i.e., Normal, Utility, Acrobatic); and (2) Airplanes of older design which were built to requirements which did not provide for operational categories.

Airplanes designed under the Category System are readily identified by a placard in the cockpit, which states the operational category (or categories) in which the airplane is certificated. The maximum safe load factors (limit load factors) specified for airplanes in the various categories are as follows:

Normal *
3.8 to –1.52
Utility (mild acrobatics, including spins)
4.4 to –1.76
6.0 to –3.0

* For airplanes with gross weight of more than 4,000 pounds, the limit load factor is reduced. To the limit loads given above, a safety factor of 50 percent is added.

There is an upward graduation in load factor with the increasing severity of maneuvers. The Category System provides for obtaining the maximum utility of an airplane. If normal operation alone is intended, the required load factor (and consequently the weight of the airplane) is less than if the airplane is to be employed in training or acrobatic maneuvers as they result in higher maneuvering loads.

Airplanes that do not have the category placard are designs that were constructed under earlier engineering requirements in which no operational restrictions were specifically given to the pilots. For airplanes of this type (up to weights of about 4,000 pounds) the required strength is comparable to present-day utility category airplanes, and the same types of operation are permissible. For airplanes of this type over 4,000 pounds, the load factors decrease with weight so that these airplanes should be regarded as being comparable to the normal category airplanes designed under the Category System, and they should be operated accordingly.

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.

    When an airplane is flying with a high angle of attack, the “bite” of the downward moving blade is greater than the “bite” of the upward moving blade; thus moving the center of thrust to the right of the prop disc area—causing a yawing moment toward the left around the vertical axis. That explanation is correct; however, to prove this phenomenon, it would be necessary to work wind vector problems on each blade, which gets quite involved when considering both the angle of attack of the airplane and the angle of attack of each blade.

    This asymmetric loading is caused by the resultant velocity, which is generated by the combination of the velocity of the propeller blade in its plane of rotation and the velocity of the air passing horizontally through the propeller “disc.” With the airplane being flown at positive angles of attack, the right (viewed from the rear) or downswinging blade, is passing through an area of resultant velocity which is greater than that affecting the left or upswinging blade. Since the propeller blade is an airfoil, increased velocity means increased lift. Therefore, the downswinging blade having more “lift” tends to pull (yaw) the airplane’s nose to the left.

    Simply stated, when the airplane is flying at a high angle of attack, the downward moving blade has a higher resultant velocity; therefore creating more lift than the upward moving blade. [Figure 3-34] This might be easier to visualize if the propeller shaft was mounted perpendicular to the ground (like a helicopter). If there were no air movement at all, except that generated by the propeller itself, identical sections of each blade would have the same airspeed. However, with air moving horizontally across this vertically mounted propeller, the blade proceeding forward into the flow of air will have a higher airspeed than the blade retreating with the airflow. Thus, the blade proceeding into the horizontal airflow is creating more lift, or thrust, moving the center of thrust toward that blade. Visualize ROTATING the vertically mounted propeller shaft to shallower angles relative to the moving air (as on an airplane). This unbalanced thrust then becomes proportionately smaller and continues getting smaller until it reaches the value of zero when the propeller shaft is exactly horizontal in relation to the moving air.

    Each of these four elements of torque effects vary in values with changes in flight situations. In one phase of flight, one of these elements may be more prominent than another; whereas, in another phase of flight, another element may be more prominent. The relationship of these values to each other will vary with different airplanes—depending on the AIRFRAME, ENGINE, AND PROPELLER combinations as well as other design features.

    To maintain positive control of the airplane in all flight conditions, the pilot must apply the flight controls as necessary to compensate for these varying values.

    Thursday, November 13, 2008


    Before the gyroscopic effects of the propeller can be understood, it is necessary to understand the basic principle of a gyroscope.

    All practical applications of the gyroscope are based upon two fundamental properties of gyroscopic action: rigidity in space and precession. The one of interest for this discussion is precession.

    Precession is the resultant action, or deflection, of a spinning rotor when a deflecting force is applied to its rim. As can be seen in figure 3-32, when a force is applied, the resulting force takes effect 90° ahead of and in the direction of rotation.

    The rotating propeller of an airplane makes a very good gyroscope and thus has similar properties. Any time a force is applied to deflect the propeller out of its plane of rotation, the resulting force is 90° ahead of and in the direction of rotation and in the direction of application, causing a pitching moment, a yawing moment, or a combination of the two depending upon the point at which the force was applied.

    This element of torque effect has always been associated with and considered more prominent in tailwheel-type airplanes, and most often occurs when the tail is being raised during the takeoff roll. [Figure 3-33] This change in pitch attitude has the same effect as applying a force to the top of the propeller’s plane of rotation. The resultant force acting 90° ahead causes a yawing moment to the left around the vertical axis. The magnitude of this moment depends on several variables, one of which is the abruptness with which the tail is raised (amount of force applied). However, precession, or gyroscopic action, occurs when a force is applied to any point on the rim of the propeller’s plane of rotation; the resultant force will still be 90° from the point of application in the direction of rotation. Depending on where the force is applied, the airplane is caused to yaw left or right, to pitch up or down, or a combination of pitching and yawing.

    It can be said that as a result of gyroscopic action— any yawing around the vertical axis results in a pitching moment, and any pitching around the lateral axis results in a yawing moment.

    To correct for the effect of gyroscopic action, it is necessary for the pilot to properly use elevator and rudder to prevent undesired pitching and yawing.


    The high-speed rotation of an airplane propeller gives a corkscrew or spiraling rotation to the slipstream. At high propeller speeds and low forward speed (as in the takeoffs and approaches to poweron stalls), this spiraling rotation is very compact and exerts a strong sideward force on the airplane’s vertical tail surface. [Figure 3-31]

    When this spiraling slipstream strikes the vertical fin on the left, it causes a left turning moment about the airplane’s vertical axis. The more compact the spiral, the more prominent this force is. As the forward speed increases, however, the spiral elongates and becomes less effective.

    The corkscrew flow of the slipstream also causes a rolling moment around the longitudinal axis.

    Note that this rolling moment caused by the corkscrew flow of the slipstream is to the right, while the rolling moment caused by torque reaction is to the left—in effect one may be counteracting the other. However, these forces vary greatly and it is up to the pilot to apply proper correction action by use of the flight controls at all times. These forces must be counteracted regardless of which is the most prominent at the time.

    Wednesday, November 12, 2008


    To the pilot, “torque” (the left turning tendency of the airplane) is made up of four elements which cause or produce a twisting or rotating motion around at least one of the airplane’s three axes. These four elements are:

  • Torque Reaction from Engine and Propeller.
  • Corkscrewing Effect of the Slipstream.
  • Gyroscopic Action of the Propeller.
  • Asymmetric Loading of the Propeller (P Factor).

    Torque reaction involves Newton’s Third Law of Physics—for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. As applied to the airplane, this means that as the internal engine parts and propeller are revolving in one direction, an equal force is trying to rotate the airplane in the opposite direction. [Figure 3-30]

    When the airplane is airborne, this force is acting around the longitudinal axis, tending to make the airplane roll. To compensate for this, some of the older airplanes are rigged in a manner to create more lift on the wing that is being forced downward. The more modern airplanes are designed with the engine offset to counteract this effect of torque.

    NOTE—Most United States built aircraft engines rotate the propeller clockwise, as viewed from the pilot’s seat. The discussion here is with reference to those engines.

    Generally, the compensating factors are permanently set so that they compensate for this force at cruising speed, since most of the airplane’s operating lift is at that speed. However, aileron trim tabs permit further adjustment for other speeds.

    When the airplane’s wheels are on the ground during the takeoff roll, an additional turning moment around the vertical axis is induced by torque reaction. As the left side of the airplane is being forced down by torque reaction, more weight is being placed on the left main landing gear. This results in more ground friction, or drag, on the left tire than on the right, causing a further turning moment to the left. The magnitude of this moment is dependent on many variables. Some of these variables are: (1) size and horsepower of engine, (2) size of propeller and the r.p.m., (3) size of the airplane, and (4) condition of the ground surface.

    This yawing moment on the takeoff roll is corrected by the pilot’s proper use of the rudder or rudder trim.

    The airplane propeller consists of two or more blades and a central hub to which the blades are attached. Each blade of an airplane propeller is essentially a rotating wing. As a result of their construction, the propeller blades are like airfoils and produce forces that create the thrust to pull, or push, the airplane through the air.

    The power needed to rotate the propeller blades is furnished by the engine. The engine rotates the airfoils of the blades through the air at high speeds, and the propeller transforms the rotary power of the engine into forward thrust.

    An airplane moving through the air creates a drag force opposing its forward motion. Consequently, if an airplane is to fly, there must be a force applied to it that is equal to the drag, but acting forward. This force is called “thrust.”

    A cross section of a typical propeller blade is shown in figure 3-26. This section or blade element is an airfoil comparable to a cross section of an airplane wing. One surface of the blade is cambered or curved, similar to the upper surface of an airplane wing, while the other surface is flat like the bottom surface of a wing. The chord line is an imaginary line drawn through the blade from its leading edge to its trailing edge. As in a wing, the leading edge is the thick edge of the blade that meets the air as the propeller rotates.

    Blade angle, usually measured in degrees, is the angle between the chord of the blade and the plane of rotation [figure 3-27] and is measured at a specific point along the length of the blade. Because most propellers have a flat blade “face,” the chord line is often drawn along the face of the propeller blade. Pitch is not the same as blade angle, but because pitch is largely determined by blade angle, the two terms are often used interchangeably. An increase or decrease in one is usually associated with an increase or decrease in the other.

    The pitch of a propeller may be designated in inches. A propeller designated as a “74-48” would be 74 inches in length and have an effective pitch of 48 inches. The pitch in inches is the distance which the propeller would screw through the air in one revolution if there were no slippage.

    When specifying a fixed-pitch propeller for a new type of airplane, the manufacturer usually selects one with a pitch that will operate efficiently at the expected cruising speed of the airplane. Unfortunately, however, every fixed-pitch propeller must be a compromise, because it can be efficient at only a given combination of airspeed and r.p.m. Pilots do not have it within their power to change this combination in flight.

    When the airplane is at rest on the ground with the engine operating, or moving slowly at the beginning of takeoff, the propeller efficiency is very low because the propeller is restrained from advancing with sufficient speed to permit its fixed-pitch blades to reach their full efficiency. In this situation, each propeller blade is turning through the air at an angle of attack that produces relatively little thrust for the amount of power required to turn it.

    To understand the action of a propeller, consider first its motion, which is both rotational and forward. Thus, as shown by the vectors of propeller forces in figure 3-27, each section of a propeller blade moves downward and forward. The angle at which this air (relative wind) strikes the propeller blade is its angle of attack. The air deflection produced by this angle causes the dynamic pressure at the engine side of the propeller blade to be greater than atmospheric, thus creating thrust.

    The shape of the blade also creates thrust, because it is cambered like the airfoil shape of a wing. Consequently, as the air flows past the propeller, the pressure on one side is less than that on the other. As in a wing, this produces a reaction force in the direction of the lesser pressure. In the case of a wing, the airflow over the wing has less pressure, and the force (lift) is upward. In the case of the propeller, which is mounted in a vertical instead of a horizontal plane, the area of decreased pressure is in front of the propeller, and the force (thrust) is in a forward direction. Aerodynamically, then, thrust is the result of the propeller shape and the angle of attack of the blade.

    Another way to consider thrust is in terms of the mass of air handled by the propeller. In these terms, thrust is equal to the mass of air handled, times the slipstream velocity, minus the velocity of the airplane. The power expended in producing thrust depends on the rate of air mass movement. On the average, thrust constitutes approximately 80 percent of the torque (total horsepower absorbed by the propeller). The other 20 percent is lost in friction and slippage. For any speed of rotation, the horsepower absorbed by the propeller balances the horsepower delivered by the engine. For any single revolution of the propeller, the amount of air handled depends on the blade angle, which determines how big a “bite” of air the propeller takes. Thus, the blade angle is an excellent means of adjusting the load on the propeller to control the engine r.p.m.

    The blade angle is also an excellent method of adjusting the angle of attack of the propeller. On constant- speed propellers, the blade angle must be adjusted to provide the most efficient angle of attack at all engine and airplane speeds. Lift versus drag curves, which are drawn for propellers as well as wings, indicate that the most efficient angle of attack is a small one varying from 2° to 4° positive. The actual blade angle necessary to maintain this small angle of attack varies with the forward speed of the airplane.

    Fixed-pitch and ground-adjustable propellers are designed for best efficiency at one rotation and forward speed. They are designed for a given airplane and engine combination. A propeller may be used that provides the maximum propeller efficiency for either takeoff, climb, cruise, or high-speed flight. Any change in these conditions results in lowering the efficiency of both the propeller and the engine. Since the efficiency of any machine is the ratio of the useful power output to the actual power input, propeller efficiency is the ratio of thrust horsepower to brake horsepower. Propeller efficiency varies from 50 to 87 percent, depending on how much the propeller “slips.”

    Propeller slip is the difference between the geometric pitch of the propeller and its effective pitch. [Figure 3-28] Geometric pitch is the theoretical distance a propeller should advance in one revolution; effective pitch is the distance it actually advances. Thus, geometric or theoretical pitch is based on no slippage, but actual or effective pitch includes propeller slippage in the air.

    The reason a propeller is “twisted” is that the outer parts of the propeller blades, like all things that turn about a central point, travel faster than the portions near the hub. [Figure 3-29] If the blades had the same geometric pitch throughout their lengths, at cruise speed the portions near the hub could have negative angles of attack while the propeller tips would be stalled. “Twisting,” or variations in the geometric pitch of the blades, permits the propeller to operate with a relatively constant angle of attack along its length when in cruising flight. To put it another way, propeller blades are twisted to change the blade angle in proportion to the differences in speed of rotation along the length of the propeller and thereby keep thrust more nearly equalized along this length.

    Usually 1° to 4° provides the most efficient lift/drag ratio, but in flight the propeller angle of attack of a fixed-pitch propeller will vary—normally from 0° to 15°. This variation is caused by changes in the relative airstream which in turn results from changes in airplane speed. In short, propeller angle of attack is the product of two motions: propeller rotation about its axis and its forward motion.

    A constant-speed propeller, however, automatically keeps the blade angle adjusted for maximum efficiency for most conditions encountered in flight. During takeoff, when maximum power and thrust are required, the constant-speed propeller is at a low propeller blade angle or pitch. The low blade angle keeps the angle of attack small and efficient with respect to the relative wind. At the same time, it allows the propeller to handle a smaller mass of air per revolution. This light load allows the engine to turn at high r.p.m. and to convert the maximum amount of fuel into heat energy in a given time. The high r.p.m. also creates maximum thrust; for, although the mass of air handled per revolution is small, the number of revolutions per minute is many, the slipstream velocity is high, and with the low airplane speed, the thrust is maximum.

    After liftoff, as the speed of the airplane increases, the constant-speed propeller automatically changes to a higher angle (or pitch). Again, the higher blade angle keeps the angle of attack small and efficient with respect to the relative wind. The higher blade angle increases the mass of air handled per revolution. This decreases the engine r.p.m., reducing fuel consumption and engine wear, and keeps thrust at a maximum.

    After the takeoff climb is established in an airplane having a controllable-pitch propeller, the pilot reduces the power output of the engine to climb power by first decreasing the manifold pressure and then increasing the blade angle to lower the r.p.m.

    At cruising altitude, when the airplane is in level flight and less power is required than is used in takeoff or climb, the pilot again reduces engine power by reducing the manifold pressure and then increasing the blade angle to decrease the r.p.m. Again, this provides a torque requirement to match the reduced engine power; for, although the mass of air handled per revolution is greater, it is more than offset by a decrease in slipstream velocity and an increase in airspeed. The angle of attack is still small because the blade angle has been increased with an increase in airspeed.

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008


    An airplane will fly as long as the wing is creating sufficient lift to counteract the load imposed on it. When the lift is completely lost, the airplane stalls.

    Remember, the direct cause of every stall is an excessive angle of attack. There are any number of flight maneuvers which may produce an increase in the angle of attack, but the stall does not occur until the angle of attack becomes excessive.

    It must be emphasized that the stalling speed of a particular airplane is not a fixed value for all flight situations. However, a given airplane will always stall at the same angle of attack regardless of airspeed, weight, load factor, or density altitude. Each airplane has a particular angle of attack where the airflow separates from the upper surface of the wing and the stall occurs. This critical angle of attack varies from 16° to 20° depending on the airplane’s design. But each airplane has only one specific angle of attack where the stall occurs.

    There are three situations in which the critical angle of attack can be exceeded: in low-speed flying, in high-speed flying, and in turning flight.

    The airplane can be stalled in straight-and-level flight by flying too slowly. As the airspeed is being decreased, the angle of attack must be increased to retain the lift required for maintaining altitude. The slower the airspeed becomes, the more the angle of attack must be increased. Eventually, an angle of attack is reached which will result in the wing not producing enough lift to support the airplane and it will start settling. If the airspeed is reduced further, the airplane will stall, since the angle of attack has exceeded the critical angle and the airflow over the wing is disrupted.

    It must be reemphasized here that low speed is not necessary to produce a stall. The wing can be brought into an excessive angle of attack at any speed. For example, take the case of an airplane which is in a dive with an airspeed of 200 knots when suddenly the pilot pulls back sharply on the elevator control. [Figure 3-24] Because of gravity and centrifugal force, the airplane could not immediately alter its flightpath but would merely change its angle of attack abruptly from quite low to very high. Since the flightpath of the airplane in relation to the oncoming air determines the direction of the relative wind, the angle of attack is suddenly increased, and the airplane would quickly reach the stalling angle at a speed much greater than the normal stall speed.

    Similarly, the stalling speed of an airplane is higher in a level turn than in straight-and-level flight. [Figure 3-25] This is because centrifugal force is added to the airplane’s weight, and the wing must produce sufficient additional lift to counterbalance the load imposed by the combination of centrifugal force and weight. In a turn, the necessary additional lift is acquired by applying back pressure to the elevator control. This increases the wing’s angle of attack, and results in increased lift. The angle of attack must increase as the bank angle increases to counteract the increasing load caused by centrifugal force. If at any time during a turn the angle of attack becomes excessive, the airplane will stall.

    At this point, the action of the airplane during a stall should be examined. To balance the airplane aerodynamically, the center of lift is normally located aft of the center of gravity. Although this makes the airplane inherently “nose heavy,” downwash on the horizontal stabilizer counteracts this condition. It can be seen then, that at the point of stall when the upward force of the wing’s lift and the downward tail force cease, an unbalanced condition exists. This allows the airplane to pitch down abruptly, rotating about its center of gravity. During this nose-down attitude, the angle of attack decreases and the airspeed again increases; hence, the smooth flow of air over the wing begins again, lift returns, and the airplane is again flying. However, considerable altitude may be lost before this cycle is complete.


    As in climbs, the forces acting on the airplane go through definite changes when a descent is entered from straight-and-level flight. The analysis here is that of descending at the same power as used in straight-and-level flight.

    When forward pressure is applied to the elevator control to start descending, or the airplane’s nose is allowed to pitch down, the angle of attack is decreased and, as a result, the lift of the airfoil is reduced. This reduction in total lift and angle of attack is momentary and occurs during the time the flightpath changes downward. The change to a downward flightpath is due to the lift momentarily becoming less than the weight of the airplane as the angle of attack is reduced. This imbalance between lift and weight causes the airplane to follow a descending flightpath with respect to the horizontal flightpath of straight-and-level flight. When the flightpath is in a steady descent, the airfoil’s angle of attack again approaches the original value, and lift and weight will again become stabilized. From the time the descent is started until it is stabilized, the airspeed will gradually increase. This is due to a component of weight now acting forward along the flightpath, similar to the manner it acted rearward in a climb. The overall effect is that of increased power or thrust, which in turn causes the increase in airspeed associated with descending at the same power as used in level flight.

    To descend at the same airspeed as used in straightand- level flight, obviously, the power must be reduced as the descent is entered. The component of weight acting forward along the flightpath will increase as the angle of rate of descent increases and conversely, will decrease as the angle of rate of descent decreases. Therefore, the amount of power reduction required for a descent at the same speed as cruise will be determined by the steepness of the descent.

    Monday, November 10, 2008


    For all practical purposes, the wing’s lift in a steady state normal climb is the same as it is in a steady level flight at the same airspeed. Though the airplane’s flightpath has changed when the climb has been established, the angle of attack of the wing with respect to the inclined flightpath reverts to practically the same values, as does the lift. There is an initial momentary change, however, as shown in figure 3-22. During the transition from straight-and-level flight to a climb, a change in lift occurs when back elevator pressure is first applied. Raising the airplane’s nose increases the angle of attack and momentarily increases the lift. Lift at this moment is now greater than weight and starts the airplane climbing. After the flightpath is stabilized on the upward incline, the angle of attack and lift again revert to about the level flight values.

    If the climb is entered with no change in power setting, the airspeed gradually diminishes because the thrust required to maintain a given airspeed in level flight is insufficient to maintain the same airspeed in a climb. When the flightpath is inclined upward, a component of the airplane’s weight acts in the same direction as, and parallel to, the total drag of the airplane, thereby increasing the total effective drag. Consequently, the total drag is greater than the power, and the airspeed decreases. The reduction in airspeed gradually results in a corresponding decrease in drag until the total drag (including the component of weight acting in the same direction) equals the thrust. [Figure 3-23] Due to momentum, the change in airspeed is gradual, varying considerably with differences in airplane size, weight, total drag, and other factors.

    Generally, the forces of thrust and drag, and lift and weight, again become balanced when the airspeed stabilizes but at a value lower than in straight-and-level flight at the same power setting. Since in a climb the airplane’s weight is not only acting downward but rearward along with drag, additional power is required to maintain the same airspeed as in level flight. The amount of power depends on the angle of climb. When the climb is established so steep that there is insufficient power available, a slower speed results. It will be seen then that the amount of reserve power determines the climb performance of the airplane.


    If an airplane were viewed in straight-and-level flight from the rear [figure 3-20], and if the forces acting on the airplane actually could be seen, two forces (lift and weight) would be apparent, and if the airplane were in a bank it would be apparent that lift did not act directly opposite to the weight—it now acts in the direction of the bank. The fact that when the airplane banks, lift acts inward toward the center of the turn, as well as upward, is one of the basic truths to remember in the consideration of turns.

    An object at rest or moving in a straight line will remain at rest or continue to move in a straight line until acted on by some other force. An airplane, like any moving object, requires a sideward force to make it turn. In a normal turn, this force is supplied by banking the airplane so that lift is exerted inward as well as upward. The force of lift during a turn is separated into two components at right angles to each other. One component, which acts vertically and opposite to the weight (gravity), is called the “vertical component of lift.” The other, which acts horizontally toward the center of the turn, is called the “horizontal component of lift,” or centripetal force. The horizontal component of lift is the force that pulls the airplane from a straight flightpath to make it turn. Centrifugal force is the “equal and opposite reaction” of the airplane to the change in direction and acts equal and opposite to the horizontal component of lift. This explains why, in a correctly executed turn, the force that turns the airplane is not supplied by the rudder.

    An airplane is not steered like a boat or an automobile; in order for it to turn, it must be banked. If the airplane is not banked, there is no force available that will cause it to deviate from a straight flightpath. Conversely, when an airplane is banked, it will turn, provided it is not slipping to the inside of the turn. Good directional control is based on the fact that the airplane will attempt to turn whenever it is banked.

    This fact should be borne in mind at all times, particularly while attempting to hold the airplane in straight-and-level flight.

    Centripetal Force – The force opposite centrifugal force and attracts a body towards its axis of rotation.

    Centrifugal Force—An apparent force resulting from the effect of inertia during a turn.

    Merely banking the airplane into a turn produces no change in the total amount of lift developed. However, as was pointed out, the lift during the bank is divided into two components: one vertical and the other horizontal. This division reduces the amount of lift which is opposing gravity and actually supporting the airplane’s weight; consequently, the airplane loses altitude unless additional lift is created. This is done by increasing the angle of attack until the vertical component of lift is again equal to the weight. Since the vertical component of lift decreases as the bank angle increases, the angle of attack must be progressively increased to produce sufficient vertical lift to support the airplane’s weight. The fact that the vertical component of lift must be equal to the weight to maintain altitude is an important fact to remember when making constant altitude turns.

    At a given airspeed, the rate at which an airplane turns depends upon the magnitude of the horizontal component of lift. It will be found that the horizontal component of lift is proportional to the angle of bank—that is, it increases or decreases respectively as the angle of bank increases or decreases. It logically follows then, that as the angle of bank is increased the horizontal component of lift increases, thereby increasing the rate of turn. Consequently, at any given airspeed the rate of turn can be controlled by adjusting the angle of bank.

    To provide a vertical component of lift sufficient to hold altitude in a level turn, an increase in the angle of attack is required. Since the drag of the airfoil is directly proportional to its angle of attack, induced drag will increase as the lift is increased. This, in turn, causes a loss of airspeed in proportion to the angle of bank; a small angle of bank results in a small reduction in airspeed and a large angle of bank results in a large reduction in airspeed. Additional thrust (power) must be applied to prevent a reduction in airspeed in level turns; the required amount of additional thrust is proportional to the angle of bank.

    To compensate for added lift, which would result if the airspeed were increased during a turn, the angle of attack must be decreased, or the angle of bank increased, if a constant altitude were to be maintained. If the angle of bank were held constant and the angle of attack decreased, the rate of turn would decrease. Therefore, in order to maintain a constant rate of turn as the airspeed is increased, the angle of attack must remain constant and the angle of bank increased.

    It must be remembered that an increase in airspeed results in an increase of the turn radius and that centrifugal force is directly proportional to the radius of the turn. In a correctly executed turn, the horizontal component of lift must be exactly equal and opposite to the centrifugal force. Therefore, as the airspeed is increased in a constant rate level turn, the radius of the turn increases. This increase in the radius of turn causes an increase in the centrifugal force, which must be balanced by an increase in the horizontal component of lift, which can only be increased by increasing the angle of bank.

    In a slipping turn, the airplane is not turning at the rate appropriate to the bank being used, since the airplane is yawed toward the outside of the turning flightpath. The airplane is banked too much for the rate of turn, so the horizontal lift component is greater than the centrifugal force. [Figure 3-21] Equilibrium between the horizontal lift component and centrifugal force is reestablished either by decreasing the bank, increasing the rate of turn, or a combination of the two changes.

    A skidding turn results from an excess of centrifugal force over the horizontal lift component, pulling the airplane toward the outside of the turn. The rate of turn is too great for the angle of bank. Correction of a skidding turn thus involves a reduction in the rate of turn, an increase in bank, or a combination of the two changes.

    To maintain a given rate of turn, the angle of bank must be varied with the airspeed. This becomes particularly important in high-speed airplanes. For instance, at 400 miles per hour (m.p.h.), an airplane must be banked approximately 44° to execute a standard rate turn (3° per second). At this angle of bank, only about 79 percent of the lift of the airplane comprises the vertical component of the lift; the result is a loss of altitude unless the angle of attack is increased sufficiently to compensate for the loss of vertical lift.

    Sunday, November 9, 2008


    Spiral instability exists when the static directional stability of the airplane is very strong as compared to the effect of its dihedral in maintaining lateral equilibrium. When the lateral equilibrium of the airplane is disturbed by a gust of air and a sideslip is introduced, the strong directional stability tends to yaw the nose into the resultant relative wind while the comparatively weak dihedral lags in restoring the lateral balance. Due to this yaw, the wing on the outside of the turning moment travels forward faster than the inside wing and as a consequence, its lift becomes greater. This produces an overbanking tendency which, if not corrected by the pilot, will result in the bank angle becoming steeper and steeper. At the same time, the strong directional stability that yaws the airplane into the relative wind is actually forcing the nose to a lower pitch attitude. Then, the start of a slow downward spiral which has begun, if not counteracted by the pilot, will gradually increase into a steep spiral dive. Usually the rate of divergence in the spiral motion is so gradual that the pilot can control the tendency without any difficulty.

    All airplanes are affected to some degree by this characteristic although they may be inherently stable in all other normal parameters. This tendency would be indicated to the pilot by the fact that the airplane cannot be flown “hands off” indefinitely.

    Much study and effort has gone into development of control devices (wing leveler) to eliminate or at least correct this instability. Advanced stages of this spiral condition demand that the pilot be very careful in application of recovery controls, or excessive loads on the structure may be imposed. Of the in-flight structural failures that have occurred in general aviation airplanes, improper recovery from this condition has probably been the underlying cause of more fatalities than any other single factor. The reason is that the airspeed in the spiral condition builds up rapidly, and the application of back elevator force to reduce this speed and to pull the nose up only “tightens the turn,” increasing the load factor. The results of the prolonged uncontrolled spiral are always the same; either in-flight structural failure, crashing into the ground, or both. The most common causes on record for getting into this situation are: loss of horizon reference, inability of the pilot to control the airplane by reference to instruments, or a combination of both.


    Dutch Roll is a coupled lateral/directional oscillation that is usually dynamically stable but is objectionable in an airplane because of the oscillatory nature. The damping of the oscillatory mode may be weak or strong depending on the properties of the particular airplane.

    Unfortunately all air is not smooth. There are bumps and depressions created by gusty updrafts and downdrafts, and by gusts from ahead, behind, or the side of the airplane.

    The response of the airplane to a disturbance from equilibrium is a combined rolling/yawing oscillation in which the rolling motion is phased to precede the yawing motion. The yawing motion is not too significant, but the roll is much more noticeable. When the airplane rolls back toward level flight in response to dihedral effect, it rolls back too far and sideslips the other way. Thus, the airplane overshoots each time because of the strong dihedral effect. When the dihedral effect is large in comparison with static directional stability, the Dutch Roll motion has weak damping and is objectionable. When the static directional stability is strong in comparison with the dihedral effect, the Dutch Roll motion has such heavy damping that it is not objectionable. However, these qualities tend toward spiral instability.

    The choice is then the least of two evils—Dutch Roll is objectionable and spiral instability is tolerable if the rate of divergence is low. Since the more important handling qualities are a result of high static directional stability and minimum necessary dihedral effect, most airplanes demonstrate a mild spiral tendency. This tendency would be indicated to the pilot by the fact that the airplane cannot be flown “hands off” indefinitely.

    In most modern airplanes, except high-speed swept wing designs, these free directional oscillations usually die out automatically in a very few cycles unless the air continues to be gusty or turbulent. Those airplanes with continuing Dutch Roll tendencies usually are equipped with gyro stabilized yaw dampers. An airplane that has Dutch Roll tendencies is disconcerting, to say the least. Therefore, the manufacturer tries to reach a medium between too much and too little directional stability. Because it is more desirable for the airplane to have “spiral instability” than Dutch Roll tendencies, most airplanes are designed with that characteristic.

    Saturday, November 8, 2008


    Stability about the airplane’s vertical axis (the sideways moment) is called yawing or directional stability.

    Yawing or directional stability is the more easily achieved stability in airplane design. The area of the vertical fin and the sides of the fuselage aft of the center of gravity are the prime contributors which make the airplane act like the well known weathervane or arrow, pointing its nose into the relative wind.

    In examining a weathervane, it can be seen that if exactly the same amount of surface were exposed to the wind in front of the pivot point as behind it, the forces fore and aft would be in balance and little or no directional movement would result. Consequently, it is necessary to have a greater surface aft of the pivot point that forward of it.

    Similarly in an airplane, the designer must ensure positive directional stability by making the side surface greater aft than ahead of the center of gravity. [Figure 3-19] To provide more positive stability aside from that provided by the fuselage, a vertical fin is added. The fin acts similar to the feather on an arrow in maintaining straight flight. Like the weathervane and the arrow, the farther aft this fin is placed and the larger its size, the greater the airplane’s directional stability.

    If an airplane is flying in a straight line, and a sideward gust of air gives the airplane a slight rotation about its vertical axis (i.e., the right), the motion is retarded and stopped by the fin because while the airplane is rotating to the right, the air is striking the left side of the fin at an angle. This causes pressure on the left side of the fin, which resists the turning motion and slows down the airplane’s yaw. In doing so, it acts somewhat like the weathervane by turning the airplane into the relative wind. The initial change in direction of the airplane’s flightpath is generally slightly behind its change of heading. Therefore, after a slight yawing of the airplane to the right, there is a brief moment when the airplane is still moving along its original path, but its longitudinal axis is pointed slightly to the right.

    The airplane is then momentarily skidding sideways, and during that moment (since it is assumed that although the yawing motion has stopped, the excess pressure on the left side of the fin still persists) there is necessarily a tendency for the airplane to be turned partially back to the left. That is, there is a momentary restoring tendency caused by the fin.

    This restoring tendency is relatively slow in developing and ceases when the airplane stops skidding. When it ceases, the airplane will be flying in a direction slightly different from the original direction. In other words, it will not of its own accord return to the original heading; the pilot must reestablish the initial heading.

    A minor improvement of directional stability may be obtained through sweepback. Sweepback is incorporated in the design of the wing primarily to delay the onset of compressibility during high-speed flight. In lighter and slower airplanes, sweepback aids in locating the center of pressure in the correct relationship with the center of gravity. Alongitudinally stable airplane is built with the center of pressure aft of the center of gravity.

    Because of structural reasons, airplane designers sometimes cannot attach the wings to the fuselage at the exact desired point. If they had to mount the wings too far forward, and at right angles to the fuselage, the center of pressure would not be far enough to the rear to result in the desired amount of longitudinal stability. By building sweepback into the wings, however, the designers can move the center of pressure toward the rear. The amount of sweepback and the position of the wings then place the center of pressure in the correct location.

    The contribution of the wing to static directional stability is usually small. The swept wing provides a stable contribution depending on the amount of sweepback, but the contribution is relatively small when compared with other components.


    Stability about the airplane’s longitudinal axis, which extends from nose to tail, is called lateral stability. This helps to stabilize the lateral or rolling effect when one wing gets lower than the wing on the opposite side of the airplane. There are four main design factors that make an airplane stable laterally: dihedral, keel effect, sweepback, and weight distribution.

    The most common procedure for producing lateral stability is to build the wings with a dihedral angle varying from one to three degrees. In other words, the wings on either side of the airplane join the fuselage to form a slight V or angle called “dihedral,” and this is measured by the angle made by each wing above a line parallel to the lateral axis.

    The basis of rolling stability is, of course, the lateral balance of forces produced by the airplane’s wings. Any imbalance in lift results in a tendency for the airplane to roll about its longitudinal axis. Stated another way, dihedral involves a balance of lift created by the wings’ angle of attack on each side of the airplane’s longitudinal axis.

    If a momentary gust of wind forces one wing of the airplane to rise and the other to lower, the airplane will bank. When the airplane is banked without turning, it tends to sideslip or slide downward toward the lowered wing. [Figure 3-17] Since the wings have dihedral, the air strikes the low wing at much greater angle of attack than the high wing. This increases the lift on the low wing and decreases lift on the high wing, and tends to restore the airplane to its original lateral attitude (wings level)—that is, the angle of attack and lift on the two wings are again equal.

    The effect of dihedral, then, is to produce a rolling moment tending to return the airplane to a laterally balanced flight condition when a sideslip occurs.

    The restoring force may move the low wing up too far, so that the opposite wing now goes down. If so, the process will be repeated, decreasing with each lateral oscillation until a balance for wings-level flight is finally reached.

    Conversely, excessive dihedral has an adverse effect on lateral maneuvering qualities. The airplane may be so stable laterally that it resists any intentional rolling motion. For this reason, airplanes that require fast roll or banking characteristics usually have less dihedral than those designed for less maneuverability.

    The contribution of sweepback to dihedral effect is important because of the nature of the contribution. In a sideslip, the wing into the wind is operating with an effective decrease in sweepback, while the wing out of the wind is operating with an effective increase in sweepback. The swept wing is responsive only to the wind component that is perpendicular to the wing’s leading edge. Consequently, if the wing is operating at a positive lift coefficient, the wing into the wind has an increase in lift, and the wing out of the wind has a decrease in lift. In this manner, the swept back wing would contribute a positive dihedral effect and the swept forward wing would contribute a negative dihedral effect.

    During flight, the side area of the airplane’s fuselage and vertical fin react to the airflow in much the same manner as the keel of a ship. That is, it exerts a steadying influence on the airplane laterally about the longitudinal axis.

    Such laterally stable airplanes are constructed so that the greater portion of the keel area is above and behind the center of gravity. [Figure 3-18] Thus, when the airplane slips to one side, the combination of the airplane’s weight and the pressure of the airflow against the upper portion of the keel area (both acting about the CG) tends to roll the airplane back to wings-level flight.