Airflow Around Aircraft Wings and Propellers

You can fold up a piece of paper, give it two wings, and watch it fly. However, you do not have the ability to pick where the paper plane lands or alter how fast it gets there. This is because you most likely did not add propellers to your paper plane. Two recognizable features of an aircraft are the wings and the aircraft propellers. Both of these parts allow the pilot to control the aircraft and navigate it through the skies. Aircraft wings and propellers each manipulate the air in which the aircraft is flying in. The wings, also known as airfoils, direct and redirect the airflow around the aircraft. The propellers are designed to produce thrust, thus, moving the plane forward.

Wings generate force and streamline the air during different stages of flight. The most common wing design that most commercial aircraft feature was developed by Richard T. Whitcomb. The wing features a curved surface on top and a flat underside. Although Whitcomb originally designed the wing to have a flat top and curved bottom, the overall design of wing helped to overcome the problem of an air disturbance called drag. The flat surface works to hinder the effect of the standing shock wave, forcing the air beneath the aircraft. The curved portion of the wing helps to squeeze the air up and over, creating the lift of the aircraft.

On commercial aircraft the propellers are usually located under the wings. While both aircraft parts work together to move the plane through the air, the propellers are creating movement whereas the wings are controlling movement. The underlying principle of both parts can be linked back to Newton’s Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As the propellers rotate through the air, they push the air behind them, therefore moving the aircraft forward.

The substance in which the propeller is moving through determines the rate at which the propeller needs to move. In wood or a similarly dense material, a screw would move slowly. In air however, a propeller can turn significantly faster. The rate at which a propeller moves is measured in revolutions per minute (RPM). The blades of a propeller are connected to a central hub. If you were to take a cross section of the propeller blade, it would actually resemble a wing. Just like the curved top in the wing, the propeller blades are also curved. This design creates a variation in the amount of thrust produced  by the propeller.

The wings and propellers of an aircraft are essentially pieces of equipment that collaboratively keep an aircraft in the air and moving forward. The wings control the air and push it downwards, therefore allowing the plane to rise up and carry its own weight. The propellers, powered by an engine, push the air backwards creating lateral thrust forward.


November 23, 2022

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