Artemis Aerospace explores how aircraft operate
As you sit back in your aeroplane seat and gaze out at the clouds below, you're probably not thinking about exactly what is keeping you in the air – or maybe you're actively trying not to think about it! The experts at Artemis Aerospace take a reassuring look at the essential parts of an aircraft which steer you to your destination.
An average commercial aeroplane weighs between 152.9 and 220.1 tonnes - and this is without adding the passengers, crew and baggage into the equation. It can seem unbelievable that something so incredibly heavy will taxi to the end of the runway and sail up into the sky. However, from the first flight by the Wright brothers in 1903 to 2023, when roughly 100,000 flights take off daily around the globe, this is exactly what happens; aviation is statistically one of the safest forms of transport in the world, with only one crash for every 7.1 million commercial flights.
Aerodynamics is the study of the properties of moving air and the interaction between the air and solid bodies moving through it. The aerodynamic forces of thrust, drag, lift and weight are what enable pilots to control the aircraft and steer it smoothly.
An aeroplane consists of millions of components; a Boeing 747-8, for example, has six million. These make up the main sections of a plane - the fuselage, wings, engines, tail section and landing gears, which all interact during the flight to keep the plane moving through the air. Unlike a car, a plane moves freely in three dimensions:
- Rotation around the front to back axis is known as the roll
- Rotation around the side-to-side axis is known as the pitch
- Rotation around the vertical axis is called the yaw
The pilot has to control all three of these rotations to keep the plane steady and on course.
The fuselage is the main body of the aircraft and provides the foundation for the structure of the plane. It's where the passengers sit and it includes the cockpit, the control centre, so the pilots sit at the front of the fuselage, and it connects all the other parts.
An aeroplane's wings are a complex collection of parts and it's these which are used to steer it in the right direction. They create the upward force which lifts the plane off the ground, and are designed with ailerons and flaps to control roll. Ailerons are hinged surfaces on the lower edge of both wings, and are used in opposite directions, decreasing lift on one wing while increasing it on another, which enables the aircraft to roll to the right or left. The flaps are extended to increase the lift force exercised by the wings and are mostly deployed during take off and landing.
The tail assembly, or 'empennage' is at the back of the plane and incorporates horizontal and vertical surfaces which stabilise the yaw and pitch, and keep the plane steady during the flight. Empennage is derived from the French verb 'empenner' meaning 'to feather an arrow' – feathers are what keeps the arrow on its trajectory. In most aircraft, the flight recorder, cockpit voice recorder and emergency locator transmitter are situated in the tail assembly as it's considered to be better protected at the rear.
The landing gear is the main support of the aircraft when it's taking off, landing, taxiing or parked. It's designed to absorb and dissipate the kinetic energy of the impact of landing, therefore reducing the impact on the rest of the plane. In the majority of aircraft, it consists of wheels, but planes can also have specially fitted floats for landing on water, or skis for landing on snow.
During take-off, it's important for the pilot to raise the landing gear as soon as the 'positive rate of climb' (greater than zero) is achieved, because the wheels are a major source of aerodynamic friction and will reduce optimum engine speed. Prior to that they have to be left down in case an unscheduled landing is necessary.
Last but not least, the plane's jet engines are what moves it through the air with such tremendous force. Each engine sucks in air from the front with a fan, and then the air pressure is raised by a compressor, which comprises blades attached to a shaft which spin at high speed and compress the air. This air is then sprayed with fuel and ignited with an electric spark, expanding the burning gases and transmitting them out through a nozzle at the back of the engine. As these gases thrust backwards, the aircraft is propelled forward, as per Sir Isaac Newton's Third Law of Motion which states 'for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.' In 1686 Newton was the first person to conjecture that a backward-facing explosion could cause a machine to move forward.
While we're looking at how a plane manoeuvres, have you ever wondered how the pilot steers it while taxiing to or from the runway? Ailerons and flaps aren't much help once the plane has landed. Planes are directed on the ground by a tiller, which is a bit like the steering wheel of a car and is located in the cockpit. It's attached to an arrangement of hydraulic cogs which pull a rail over a cogwheel which is fitted to the front wheel of the plane. Rotating the tiller turns the plane's front wheels to the right and left.
Steering aeroplanes to their destinations is a complex job, requiring the intricate synchronisation of millions of components. At Artemis Aerospace, our comprehensive component supply service keeps aircraft in the sky across the globe, ensuring that the right part is available exactly where it's needed. As you taxi down the runway, you can be certain that technical expertise combined with highly skilled and experienced pilots will guarantee a safe and comfortable flight, so sit back, relax and enjoy the clouds.