Modern aircraft are a true marvel of engineering. They have to overcome strong turbulent and unpredictable air currents and complete their flight by undertaking complex manoeuvres. Have you ever wondered how pilots can achieve this?
To do this, we first need to understand its structure, as everything is designed to the millimetre so that each part of the aircraft can perform its function correctly. This time we will focus on the moving parts of the aircraft: the wings and tail.
The most interesting feature of an aircraft’s wings is that they create a very special form in fluid mechanics, called airfoil, as they move through a mass of air. Only by understanding the physics behind this phenomenon can we fully understand how does a plane fly.
So, how does a plane fly? The wing produces a lifting force that allows the plane to fly. This force is achieved by the forward movement of the plane, which generates a flow of air called relative wind which, when moving at different speeds through the top and bottom of the wing due to its different curvature, creates a difference in pressure, higher at the bottom of the wing, which translates into an upward thrust. This effect, which increases with the speed and angle of the relative wind, leads to the wing rising and with it the whole plane.
In addition, the wing is made up of other parts and assemblies. The mobile elements. If you are a little curious, you may have already noticed that certain parts of the wings move at various times during flight. These are the flaps and slats, which can alter the shape of the wing depending on the needs of each moment of the flight. For example, for take-off these sets are deployed to generate a greater supporting surface on the wing and to allow the plane to “go up in the air” at a lower speed and with a shorter runway. In this way, airports do not need to have runways that are miles long.
They are also useful on landing, as they enable the aircraft to remain in flight despite a reduction in speed. Focusing now on the tail, two types of sets can be observed: the rudder, and the elevators. By acting on the elevators, the air flow that affects them is controlled, allowing the plane to go up or down during the flight. This is the device that is activated at the moment of take-off so that the plane goes into the air. On the other hand, adjusting the rudder controls the air flow that affects the plane’s steering, so that it can move the nose to the right or left.
Finally, at the ends of the wings are the spoilers. These move asymmetrically – when one goes up, the other goes down – allowing the so-called “roll”, i.e. the tilting movement of the plane to the right or left to initiate a turn. There are some other mobile elements on the wing of an aircraft, but these are the main ones. As for the plane’s fuselage, it plays little role in the flight operation. It simply responds to a compromise between a smooth geometry with little aerodynamic resistance and the different capacity or volume needs to meet its objectives. Being strict, we can well say that of all that makes up an aircraft, the only thing that really “flies” are its wings.