Everything You Need To Know About Aircraft Construction
Aircraft are constructed to meet a specific set of requirements, and each component applied must be individually selected for a particular plane. This means that it is essentially impossible for any given aircraft type to share the exact same characteristics and design.
However, to achieve heavier-than-air flight, only two types of aircraft can be used, those of which include fixed-wing aircraft and rotary-wing aircraft. While fixed-wing vehicles often consist of a fuselage, wings, stabilizers, flight controls surfaces, and landing gear, rotary-wing aircraft are constructed with a fuselage, landing gear, main rotor assembly, and tail rotor assembly. Despite their differences, the characteristics of each aircraft structure must focus on strength, weight, and materials used to provide optimum reliability.
Common Types of Stresses Acting on an Aircraft
Before constructing any aircraft, it is necessary to consider all potential stressors that will be inflicted on the vehicle during operation. Whether an aircraft is in the sky or parked at an airport, there are several forces that still act on it. For example, when an aircraft is on the ground and stationary, gravitational forces are still present, increasing the vehicle’s overall weight, which is usually absorbed by the landing gear.
During flight, forces predominantly act on the wings and fuselage due to the airflow over such surface areas when accelerating or decelerating. Knowing various stressors encountered by different aircraft can help one understand why they are each designed and built the way that they are. These forces are: tension, torsion, compression, shear, and bending.
Materials Used in Aircraft Construction
Aircraft construction is an intricate process requiring knowledge about weight versus strength ratios. While the first aircraft ever constructed was fabricated from wood, today's planes are built with metal or nonmetallic materials depending on their need for speed and durability. The most common materials used today are alloys, such as those made from aluminum, for their lightweight and durable characteristics. On the other hand, magnesium is typically used to build helicopters as components created from such materials only weigh two-thirds as much as aluminum.
Titanium is a strong and corrosion-resistant metal used wherever strength is a primary requirement. However, although ideal for conditions where aluminum alloys are prone to fail, steel components are heavy and can easily add unwanted weight. Additionally, steel alloys are another highly utilized material for building aircraft. Products made from such materials can withstand forces ranging from 50 to 150 tons per square inch.
Nonmetallic materials used for building aircraft include transparent plastic sheets for canopies, windshields, and other similar items. In addition, reinforced plastic is used to construct radomes, wingtips, stabilizer tips, antenna covers, flight controls, composite, while carbon-fiber materials are utilized where high strength-to-weight ratios are a must.
The fuselage is a long, hollow cylinder that represents the aircraft's body. With the cockpit located at the front of the fuselage, the middle section functions as a space for seating crewmen and passengers, alongside stowing cargo. Moreover, the engine, landing gear, wings, and stabilizers are connected to the fuselage. To construct a fuselage, welded steel trusses or monocoque designs can be used.
An aircraft has two wings which are responsible for promoting lift in order to carry large loads when flying. The construction of wings depends on several factors such as the size, weight, speed, rate of climb, and use of the aircraft. It is also essential that wings maintain their aerodynamic shape while performing in-air maneuvers or when wing loading. Today, wings are commonly constructed of spars and ribs, but can feature control surfaces like flaps or ailerons at their outer ends, those of which can be removed to streamline maintenance and other processes.
An aircraft's stabilizing surfaces are called the vertical and horizontal fins. They work in tandem with respective rudders and elevators to form what is often referred to as the empennage or tail. Together, these components make up an individual section that can be inspected or maintained for proper function. The primary function of stabilizers is to keep the aircraft in straight-and-level flight. The vertical stabilizer provides stability at the vertical axis, that of which is also called directional stability. Meanwhile, the horizontal stabilizer provides stability at the lateral axis, that of which is called longitudinal stability. The construction of each stabilizer is similar to aircraft wings.
In many instances, aircraft will take advantage of retracting landing gear assemblies for increased aerodynamics during flight. Therefore, a landing gear system has three retractable landing gear assemblies. Each has air-oil shock struts that keep them inflated; wheel brakes that help slow down movement; and tire assemblies with individual parts attached by a shimmy dampener. The nose unit has an extra set of all components since there needs to be a solution ready if something goes wrong.
Rotary wing aircraft have a fuselage, landing gear group, and a main rotor assembly. The most common example of rotary-wing aircraft is helicopters. However, rotary-wing aircraft of all types are found everywhere and can perform unique critical tasks depending upon their capabilities.
Helicopters consist of at least two rotors for lift and propulsion. The main advantage of this type of aircraft over fixed-wing aircraft is that they do not require high forward speed for lift with VTOL capabilities. As a result, a helicopter can fly in all directions and hover above the ground. The construction of its main component is similar to that of fixed-wing aircraft, apart from their landing gear, since they have main landing gear assemblies and a tail landing gear. The main landing gear will often include tubeless tires, hydraulic disc brakes, tie-down rings, drag braces, and safety switches. It also has two single axles and an air/oil type of shock-strut assembly that mounts to the fuselage. On the other hand, tail landing gear consists of tubeless tires, a tie-down ring, shimmy damper, tail-wheel lock, and an air/oil shock strut which helps pilots reduce landing shock.
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