the 4 forces of flight

by caitlyn

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Lift is the force that directly opposes the wight of an airplane and holds the airplane in the air. Lift is generated by every part of the airplane, but most of the lift on a normal airliner is generated by the wing. Lift is a mechanical aerodynamic force produced by the motion of the airplane through the air. Because lift is a force, it is a vector quantity, having both a magnitude and a direction associated with it. Lift acts through the center of pressure of the object and is directed perpendicular to the flow direction. There are several factors which affect the magnitude of lift.


Weight is the force generated by the gravitational attraction of the earth on the airplane.We are more familiar with weight than with the other forces acting on an airplane, because each of us have our own weight which we can measure every morning on the bathroom scale. We know when one thing is heavy an when another thing is light. But weight, the gravitational force, is fundamentally different from the aerodynamics forces. lift and drag. are mechanical forces and the airplane has to be in physical contact with the the air which generates the force. The gravitational force is a field force; the source of the force does not have to be in physical contact with the object to generate a pull on the object.


Drag is a mechanical force. It is generated by the interaction and contact of a solid body with a fluid (liquid or gas). It is not generated by a force field, in the sense of a gravitational field or an electromagnetic field, where one object can affect another object without being in physical contact. For drag to be generated, the solid body must be in contact with the fluid. If there is no fluid, there is no drag. Drag is generated by the difference in velocity between the solid object and the fluid. There must be motion between the object and the fluid. If there is no motion, there is no drag. It makes no difference whether the object moves through a static fluid or whether the fluid moves past a static solid object.

Drag is a force and is therefore a vector quantity having both a magnitude and a direction. Drag acts in a direction that is opposite to the motion of the aircraft. Lift acts perpendicular to the motion. There are many factors that affect the magnitude of the drag. Many of the factors also affect lift but there are some factors that are unique to aircraft drag.


Thrust is the force which moves an aircraft through the air. Thrust is used to overcome the drag of an airplane, and to overcome the weight of a rocket. Thrust is generated by the engines of the aircraft through some kind of propulsion system.

Thrust is a mechanical force, so the propulsion system must be in physical contact with a working fluid to produce thrust. Thrust is generated most often through the reaction of accelerating a mass of gas. Since thrust is a force, it is a vector quantity having both a magnitude and a direction. The engine does work on the gas and accelerates the gas to the rear of the engine; the thrust is generated in the opposite direction from the accelerated gas. The magnitude of the thrust depends on the amount of gas that is accelerated and on the difference in velocity of the gas through the engine.

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