The Parts of an Airplane

Airplane Nasa
••• Image: NASA

The basic parts of an airplane include the fuselage, wings, empennage, powerplant, and landing gear. There are also subparts of those major parts that are crucial to enabling a plane to fly as well as various systems that keep the plane running safely and the passengers comfortable.

Fuselage

The fuselage is the main part of the plane, located centrally to the entire aircraft. The fuselage, which is basically a large, hollow tube that tapers at the back, is the component where the passengers and baggage are held and to which the wings and empennage are attached. The fuselage also includes the cockpit, where the pilot and copilot control the plane.

Wings

The wings are the source of lift for the aircraft. They are attached on both sides of the fuselage, near the top on high-wing aircraft like the Cessna 162 and at the bottom on low-wing aircraft, such as the Terrafugia Transition. The front of the wing is called the leading edge, and the back of the wing is called the trailing edge.

The wings are held together and supported by metal spars, ribs, and stringers and covered by a fabric, aluminum, or composite material shell. On their trailing edges, you can find the ailerons and flaps, which change the shape of the wings for different phases of the flight.

  • Ailerons are found near the tips of wings' trailing edges. They're rectangular-shaped airfoils that rise to disturb the airflow over the wing. Ailerons are used to turn the airplane by creating more lift on one wing than the other.
  • Flaps are smaller airfoils found on the rear parts of the wings nearest to the fuselage. Flaps can be extended to increase the wing surface area, creating more lift for takeoff and landing. There are different types of flaps because designs vary by aircraft. The most common are the plain flap, slotted flap, split flap, Fowler flap, and double-slotted Fowler flap.

On wings' leading edges, you can find slats, which serve the same purpose as flaps: increasing surface area to create more lift for takeoff and landing.

On the upper surfaces of wings are spoilers, which are small, hinged plates that serve multiple purposes: If both spoilers (one on each wing) are lifted up, or deployed, they can slow the plane or make it descend. If the spoiler on one wing is deployed, it can make the plane roll. If the spoiler on the right wing (the wing to the right of the forward-facing pilot) is deployed, the plane will roll in a clockwise direction. The spoiler on the left wing makes the plane roll in a counterclockwise direction when it's deployed.

Many planes have wings with vertical tips called winglets that reduce drag and enable the wings to produce lift more efficiently.

Empennage

The empennage, or tail section, consists of the vertical stabilizer and the horizontal stabilizer.

  • The rudder is a movable piece of the vertical stabilizer that allows the airplane to turn left or right about the airplane's vertical axis when activated. The rudder is connected to the foot pedals in the cockpit of the airplane.
  • The elevator is located on the rear part of the horizontal stabilizer. It moves up or down in order to make the plane's nose move up or down. The elevator is connected to the yoke. If you were to pull back on the yoke in the cockpit, the elevator would be moved upward, forcing the horizontal stabilizer to go down and the aircraft's nose to go up.
  • Trim tabs are small rectangle-shaped pieces of material that may be found on the trailing edges of the horizontal and vertical stabilizers. They're meant to be moved gradually, as set by the pilot, to ease control pressure and make the aircraft easier to handle.

A stabilator is a type of horizontal stabilizer that doesn't include an elevator and requires less effort by the pilot to bring about changes in the control of the aircraft. A stabilator is one large piece of material with an anti-servo tab on its leading edge that doubles as a trim tab. The purpose of the anti-servo tab is to prevent overcontrolling⁠—making too many corrections to control the plane.

Powerplant

The powerplant consists of the engine or engines, perhaps a propeller (depending on the type of engine), and the electrical system. It can be located in/on the front of the aircraft fuselage or toward the rear of the airplane. In multi-engine aircraft, the engines are typically located under the wings on each side.

The engine is typically covered by a cowling that helps streamline the flow of air around the engine and keep it cool.

Landing Gear

The landing gear on most aircraft consists of wheels and struts. Some aircraft have skis or floats in order to land on snow or water, respectively.

Most single-engine land airplanes have tricycle landing gear. Tricycle gear consists of two main wheels with a nose wheel in front. On aircraft with conventional gear, which, despite its name, is much less common, there are two main wheels with a single wheel in back, under the tail. Aircraft with conventional type gear are often called tailwheel airplanes or taildraggers.

Disc brakes are located in the main wheels and are usually controlled with the pilot's feet.

Aircraft Frames

Aircraft can be made of different types of material and with different methods, including truss, monocoque, semi-monocoque, and composite material.

A truss structure is an older type of structure and is created by welding tubes together to form a rectangular frame. It can be left open or covered by a cloth or metal skin but is not as aerodynamic as more current methods.

Monocoque structures are basically hollow designs with a stretched fabric or material such as aluminum over the open framework. They're simple and pretty sturdy around the edges, but the inner parts of these structures can't withstand much external pressure.

Semi-monocoque airplanes are designed in a similar fashion as monocoques but with added support and a substructure.

Composite materials are becoming more popular and are frequently used in modern aircraft. Composite materials such as carbon fiber and fiberglass are lighter and stronger than traditional aluminum. They're more expensive but are less prone to corrosion and metal fatigue.

Other Systems

  • The pilot uses the hydraulic system to control the ailerons, flaps, slats, spoilers, rudder, and elevator. In a smaller aircraft, the hydraulic system may be used for braking and other operations.
  • The pressurization and oxygen systems are used in large aircraft that fly at high altitudes to maintain cabin pressure and supply enough oxygen for everyone on board.
  • The fuel system stores clean fuel in tanks and transports it to the carburetor.
  • The carburetor system mixes fuel and air for use by the engine or engines.
  • Anti-icing and deicing systems prevent ice from forming and remove ice, respectively.
  • The heating and air-conditioning system keeps the aircraft warm or cool enough for the comfort of passengers.
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