An aircraft is a machine that is able to fly by gaining support from
the air. It counters the force of gravity by using either static lift
or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the
downward thrust from jet engines. Common examples of aircraft include
airplanes, helicopters, airships (including blimps), gliders, and hot
The human activity that surrounds aircraft is called aviation. Crewed
aircraft are flown by an onboard pilot, but unmanned aerial vehicles
may be remotely controlled or self-controlled by onboard computers.
Aircraft may be classified by different criteria, such as lift type,
aircraft propulsion, usage and others.
2 Methods of lift
2.1 Lighter than air – aerostats
2.2 Heavier-than-air – aerodynes
2.2.3 Other methods of lift
3 Scale, sizes and speeds
4.1 Unpowered aircraft
4.2 Powered aircraft
4.2.1 Propeller aircraft
4.2.2 Jet aircraft
4.2.4 Other types of powered aircraft
5 Design and construction
7 Impacts of aircraft use
8 Uses for aircraft
9 See also
11 External links
Main article: History of aviation
See also: Timeline of aviation
Flying model craft and stories of manned flight go back many
centuries, however the first manned ascent – and safe descent – in
modern times took place by larger hot-air balloons developed in the
18th century. Each of the two World Wars led to great technical
advances. Consequently, the history of aircraft can be divided into
Pioneers of flight, from the earliest experiments to 1914.
First World War, 1914 to 1918.
Aviation between the World Wars, 1918 to 1939.
Second World War, 1939 to 1945.
Postwar era, also called the jet age, 1945 to the present day.
Methods of lift
Lighter than air – aerostats
Main article: Aerostat
Hot air balloons
Aerostats use buoyancy to float in the air in much the same way that
ships float on the water. They are characterized by one or more large
gasbags or canopies, filled with a relatively low-density gas such as
helium, hydrogen, or hot air, which is less dense than the surrounding
air. When the weight of this is added to the weight of the aircraft
structure, it adds up to the same weight as the air that the craft
Small hot-air balloons called sky lanterns were first invented in
ancient China prior to the 3rd century BC and used primarily in
cultural celebrations, and were only the second type of aircraft to
fly, the first being kites which were first invented in ancient China
over two thousand years ago (see Han Dynasty).
Airship USS Akron over Manhattan in the 1930s
A balloon was originally any aerostat, while the term airship was used
for large, powered aircraft designs – usually
fixed-wing. In 1919
Frederick Handley Page
Frederick Handley Page was
reported as referring to "ships of the air," with smaller passenger
types as "
Air yachts." In the 1930s, large intercontinental flying
boats were also sometimes referred to as "ships of the air" or
"flying-ships". – though none had yet been built. The advent
of powered balloons, called dirigible balloons, and later of rigid
hulls allowing a great increase in size, began to change the way these
words were used. Huge powered aerostats, characterized by a rigid
outer framework and separate aerodynamic skin surrounding the gas
bags, were produced, the Zeppelins being the largest and most famous.
There were still no fixed-wing aircraft or non-rigid balloons large
enough to be called airships, so "airship" came to be synonymous with
these aircraft. Then several accidents, such as the Hindenburg
disaster in 1937, led to the demise of these airships. Nowadays a
"balloon" is an unpowered aerostat and an "airship" is a powered one.
A powered, steerable aerostat is called a dirigible. Sometimes this
term is applied only to non-rigid balloons, and sometimes dirigible
balloon is regarded as the definition of an airship (which may then be
rigid or non-rigid). Non-rigid dirigibles are characterized by a
moderately aerodynamic gasbag with stabilizing fins at the back. These
soon became known as blimps. During the Second World War, this shape
was widely adopted for tethered balloons; in windy weather, this both
reduces the strain on the tether and stabilizes the balloon. The
nickname blimp was adopted along with the shape. In modern times, any
small dirigible or airship is called a blimp, though a blimp may be
unpowered as well as powered.
Heavier-than-air – aerodynes
Heavier-than-air aircraft, such as airplanes, must find some way to
push air or gas downwards, so that a reaction occurs (by Newton's laws
of motion) to push the aircraft upwards. This dynamic movement through
the air is the origin of the term aerodyne. There are two ways to
produce dynamic upthrust: aerodynamic lift, and powered lift in the
form of engine thrust.
Aerodynamic lift involving wings is the most common, with fixed-wing
aircraft being kept in the air by the forward movement of wings, and
rotorcraft by spinning wing-shaped rotors sometimes called rotary
wings. A wing is a flat, horizontal surface, usually shaped in
cross-section as an aerofoil. To fly, air must flow over the wing and
generate lift. A flexible wing is a wing made of fabric or thin sheet
material, often stretched over a rigid frame. A kite is tethered to
the ground and relies on the speed of the wind over its wings, which
may be flexible or rigid, fixed, or rotary.
With powered lift, the aircraft directs its engine thrust vertically
V/STOL aircraft, such as the
Harrier Jump Jet
Harrier Jump Jet and F-35B take
off and land vertically using powered lift and transfer to aerodynamic
lift in steady flight.
A pure rocket is not usually regarded as an aerodyne, because it does
not depend on the air for its lift (and can even fly into space);
however, many aerodynamic lift vehicles have been powered or assisted
by rocket motors. Rocket-powered missiles that obtain aerodynamic lift
at very high speed due to airflow over their bodies are a marginal
An Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger airliner
Main article: fixed-wing aircraft
The forerunner of the fixed-wing aircraft is the kite. Whereas a
fixed-wing aircraft relies on its forward speed to create airflow over
the wings, a kite is tethered to the ground and relies on the wind
blowing over its wings to provide lift. Kites were the first kind of
aircraft to fly, and were invented in China around 500 BC. Much
aerodynamic research was done with kites before test aircraft, wind
tunnels, and computer modelling programs became available.
The first heavier-than-air craft capable of controlled free-flight
were gliders. A glider designed by
George Cayley carried out the first
true manned, controlled flight in 1853.
Practical, powered, fixed-wing aircraft (the aeroplane or airplane)
were invented by Wilbur and Orville Wright. Besides the method of
propulsion, fixed-wing aircraft are in general characterized by their
wing configuration. The most important wing characteristics are:
Number of wings – Monoplane, biplane, etc.
Wing support – Braced or cantilever, rigid, or flexible.
Wing planform – including aspect ratio, angle of sweep, and any
variations along the span (including the important class of delta
Location of the horizontal stabilizer, if any.
Dihedral angle – positive, zero, or negative (anhedral).
A variable geometry aircraft can change its wing configuration during
A flying wing has no fuselage, though it may have small blisters or
pods. The opposite of this is a lifting body, which has no wings,
though it may have small stabilizing and control surfaces.
Wing-in-ground-effect vehicles are not considered aircraft. They "fly"
efficiently close to the surface of the ground or water, like
conventional aircraft during takeoff. An example is the Russian
ekranoplan (nicknamed the "Caspian Sea Monster"). Man-powered aircraft
also rely on ground effect to remain airborne with a minimal pilot
power, but this is only because they are so underpowered—in fact,
the airframe is capable of flying higher.
Main article: Rotorcraft
Rotorcraft, or rotary-wing aircraft, use a spinning rotor with
aerofoil section blades (a rotary wing) to provide lift. Types include
helicopters, autogyros, and various hybrids such as gyrodynes and
Helicopters have a rotor turned by an engine-driven shaft. The rotor
pushes air downward to create lift. By tilting the rotor forward, the
downward flow is tilted backward, producing thrust for forward flight.
Some helicopters have more than one rotor and a few have rotors turned
by gas jets at the tips.
Autogyros have unpowered rotors, with a separate power plant to
provide thrust. The rotor is tilted backward. As the autogyro moves
forward, air blows upward across the rotor, making it spin. This
spinning increases the speed of airflow over the rotor, to provide
lift. Rotor kites are unpowered autogyros, which are towed to give
them forward speed or tethered to a static anchor in high-wind for
Cyclogyros rotate their wings about a horizontal axis.
Compound rotorcraft have wings that provide some or all of the lift in
forward flight. They are nowadays classified as powered lift types and
not as rotorcraft.
Tiltrotor aircraft (such as the V-22 Osprey),
tiltwing, tailsitter, and coleopter aircraft have their
rotors/propellers horizontal for vertical flight and vertical for
Other methods of lift
X-24B lifting body, specialized glider
A lifting body is an aircraft body shaped to produce lift. If there
are any wings, they are too small to provide significant lift and are
used only for stability and control. Lifting bodies are not efficient:
they suffer from high drag, and must also travel at high speed to
generate enough lift to fly. Many of the research prototypes, such as
the Martin-Marietta X-24, which led up to the Space Shuttle, were
lifting bodies (though the shuttle itself is not), and some supersonic
missiles obtain lift from the airflow over a tubular body.
Powered lift types rely on engine-derived lift for vertical takeoff
and landing (VTOL). Most types transition to fixed-wing lift for
horizontal flight. Classes of powered lift types include
aircraft (such as the Harrier jump-jet) and tiltrotors (such as the
V-22 Osprey), among others. A few experimental designs rely entirely
on engine thrust to provide lift throughout the whole flight,
including personal fan-lift hover platforms and jetpacks. VTOL
research designs include the flying Bedstead.
Flettner airplane uses a rotating cylinder in place of a fixed
wing, obtaining lift from the magnus effect.
The ornithopter obtains thrust by flapping its wings.
Scale, sizes and speeds
The smallest aircraft are toys, and—even smaller -- nano-aircraft.
The largest aircraft by dimensions and volume (as of 2016) is the
302-foot-long (about 95 meters) British Airlander 10, a hybrid blimp,
with helicopter and fixed-wing features, and reportedly capable of
speeds up to 90 mph (about 150 km/h), and an airborne
endurance of two weeks with a payload of up to 22,050 pounds (11
The largest aircraft by weight and largest regular fixed-wing aircraft
ever built (as of 2016), is the Antonov An-225. That Ukrainian-built
6-engine Russian transport of the 1980s is 84 meters (276 feet) long,
with an 88-meter (289 foot) wingspan. It holds the world payload
record, after transporting 428,834 pounds (200 tons) of goods, and has
recently flown 100-ton loads commercially. Weighing in at somewhere
between 1.1 and 1.4 million pounds (550-700 tons) maximum loaded
weight, it is also the heaviest aircraft to be built, to date. It can
cruise at 500 mph.
The largest military airplanes are the Ukrainian/Russian Antonov
An-124 (world's second-largest airplane, also used as a civilian
transport), and American
Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
Lockheed C-5 Galaxy transport, weighing,
loaded, over 765,000 pounds (over 380 tons). The 8-engine,
piston/propeller Hughes HK-1 "Spruce Goose," an American World War II
wooden flying boat transport—with a greater wingspan (94 meters /
260 feet) than any current aircraft, and a tail-height equal to the
tallest (Airbus A380-800 at 24.1 meters / 78 feet) -- flew only one
short hop in the late 1940s, and never flew out of ground effect.
The largest civilian airplanes, apart from the above-noted An-225 and
An-124, are the French
Airbus Beluga cargo transport derivative of the
Airbus A300 jet airliner, the American
Boeing Dreamlifter cargo
transport derivative of the
Boeing 747 jet airliner/transport (the
747-200B was, at its creation in the 1960s, the heaviest aircraft ever
built, with a maximum weight of 836,000 pounds (over 400 tons)),
and the double-decker French
Airbus A380 "super-jumbo" jet airliner
(the world's largest passenger airliner).
Main article: List of large aircraft
The fastest recorded powered aircraft flight and fastest recorded
aircraft flight of an air-breathing powered aircraft was of the NASA
X-43A Pegasus, a scramjet-powered, hypersonic, lifting body
experimental research aircraft, at Mach 9.6 (nearly 7,000 mph).
X-43A set that new mark, and broke its own world record (of Mach
6.3, nearly 5,000 mph, set in March, 2004) on its third and final
flight on Nov. 16, 2004.
Prior to the X-43A, the fastest recorded powered airplane flight (and
still the record for the fastest manned, powered airplane / fastest
manned, non-spacecraft aircraft) was of the North American X-15A-2,
rocket-powered airplane at 4,520 mph (7,274 km/h), Mach
6.72, on October 3, 1967. On one flight it reached an altitude of
The fastest known, production aircraft (other than rockets and
missiles) currently or formerly operational (as of 2016) are:
The fastest fixed-wing aircraft, and fastest glider, is the Space
Shuttle, a rocket-glider hybrid, which has re-entered the atmosphere
as a fixed-wing glider at over Mach 25 (over 25 times the speed of
sound—about 17,000 mph at re-entry to Earth's
The fastest military airplane ever built: Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a
U.S. reconnaissance jet fixed-wing aircraft, known to fly beyond Mach
3.3 (about 2,200 mph at cruising altitude). On July 28, 1976, an
SR-71 set the record for the fastest and highest-flying operational
aircraft with an absolute speed record of 2,193 mph and an
absolute altitude record of 85,068 feet. At its retirement in the
January 1990, it was the fastest air-breathing aircraft / fastest jet
aircraft in the world—a record still standing as of August,
Note: Some sources refer to the above-mentioned X-15 as the "fastest
military airplane" because it was partly a project of the U.S. Navy
Air Force; however, the X-15 was not used in non-experimental
actual military operations.
The fastest current military aircraft are the Soviet/Russian
MiG-25—capable of Mach 3.2 (2,170 mph), at the expense of
engine damage, or Mach 2.83 (1,920 mph) normally—and the
Russian MiG-31E (also capable of Mach 2.83 normally). Both are
fighter-interceptor jet airplanes, in active operations as of
The fastest civilian airplane ever built, and fastest passenger
airliner ever built: the briefly operated
Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic
jet airliner (Mach 2.35, 1,600 mph, 2,587 km/h), which was
believed to cruise at about Mach 2.2. The Tu-144 (officially operated
from 1968 to 1978, ending after two crashes of the small fleet) was
outlived by its rival, the
Concorde SST (Mach 2.23), a French/British
supersonic airliner, known to cruise at Mach 2.02 (1.450 mph,
2,333 kmh at cruising altitude), operating from 1976 until the small
Concorde fleet was grounded permanently in 2003, following the crash
of one in the early 2000s.
The fastest civilian airplane currently flying: the Cessna Citation
Ten, an American business jet, capable of Mach 0.935 (over
600 mph at cruising altitude). Its rival, the American Gulfstream
650 business jet, can reach Mach 0.925
The fastest airliner currently flying is the Boeing 747, quoted as
being capable of cruising over Mach 0.885 (over 550 mph).
Previously, the fastest were the troubled, short-lived Russian (Soviet
Tupolev Tu-144 SST (Mach 2.35) and the French/British Concorde
SST (Mach 2.23, normally cruising at Mach 2) . Before
Convair 990 Coronado
Convair 990 Coronado jet airliner of the 1960s flew at over
Flight airspeed record
Main article: Unpowered aircraft
Gliders are heavier-than-air aircraft that do not employ propulsion
once airborne. Take-off may be by launching forward and downward from
a high location, or by pulling into the air on a tow-line, either by a
ground-based winch or vehicle, or by a powered "tug" aircraft. For a
glider to maintain its forward air speed and lift, it must descend in
relation to the air (but not necessarily in relation to the ground).
Many gliders can 'soar' – gain height from updrafts such as thermal
currents. The first practical, controllable example was designed and
built by the British scientist and pioneer George Cayley, whom many
recognise as the first aeronautical engineer. Common examples of
gliders are sailplanes, hang gliders and paragliders.
Balloons drift with the wind, though normally the pilot can control
the altitude, either by heating the air or by releasing ballast,
giving some directional control (since the wind direction changes with
altitude). A wing-shaped hybrid balloon can glide directionally when
rising or falling; but a spherically shaped balloon does not have such
Kites are aircraft that are tethered to the ground or other object
(fixed or mobile) that maintains tension in the tether or kite line;
they rely on virtual or real wind blowing over and under them to
generate lift and drag. Kytoons are balloon-kite hybrids that are
shaped and tethered to obtain kiting deflections, and can be
lighter-than-air, neutrally buoyant, or heavier-than-air.
Main article: Powered aircraft
Powered aircraft have one or more onboard sources of mechanical power,
typically aircraft engines although rubber and manpower have also been
used. Most aircraft engines are either lightweight piston engines or
gas turbines. Engine fuel is stored in tanks, usually in the wings but
larger aircraft also have additional fuel tanks in the fuselage.
Main article: Propeller aircraft
A turboprop-engined DeHavilland Twin Otter adapted as a floatplane
Propeller aircraft use one or more propellers (airscrews) to create
thrust in a forward direction. The propeller is usually mounted in
front of the power source in tractor configuration but can be mounted
behind in pusher configuration. Variations of propeller layout include
contra-rotating propellers and ducted fans.
Many kinds of power plant have been used to drive propellers. Early
airships used man power or steam engines. The more practical internal
combustion piston engine was used for virtually all fixed-wing
World War II
World War II and is still used in many smaller
aircraft. Some types use turbine engines to drive a propeller in the
form of a turboprop or propfan.
Human-powered flight has been
achieved, but has not become a practical means of transport. Unmanned
aircraft and models have also used power sources such as electric
motors and rubber bands.
Main article: Jet aircraft
Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor
Jet aircraft use airbreathing jet engines, which take in air, burn
fuel with it in a combustion chamber, and accelerate the exhaust
rearwards to provide thrust.
Turbojet and turbofan engines use a spinning turbine to drive one or
more fans, which provide additional thrust. An afterburner may be used
to inject extra fuel into the hot exhaust, especially on military
"fast jets". Use of a turbine is not absolutely necessary: other
designs include the pulse jet and ramjet. These mechanically simple
designs cannot work when stationary, so the aircraft must be launched
to flying speed by some other method. Other variants have also been
used, including the motorjet and hybrids such as the Pratt &
Whitney J58, which can convert between turbojet and ramjet operation.
Compared to propellers, jet engines can provide much higher thrust,
higher speeds and, above about 40,000 ft (12,000 m), greater
efficiency. They are also much more fuel-efficient than rockets.
As a consequence nearly all large, high-speed or high-altitude
aircraft use jet engines.
Main article: Rotorcraft
Some rotorcraft, such as helicopters, have a powered rotary wing or
rotor, where the rotor disc can be angled slightly forward so that a
proportion of its lift is directed forwards. The rotor may, like a
propeller, be powered by a variety of methods such as a piston engine
or turbine. Experiments have also used jet nozzles at the rotor blade
Other types of powered aircraft
Rocket-powered aircraft have occasionally been experimented with, and
the Messerschmitt Komet fighter even saw action in the Second World
War. Since then, they have been restricted to research aircraft, such
as the North American X-15, which traveled up into space where
air-breathing engines cannot work (rockets carry their own oxidant).
Rockets have more often been used as a supplement to the main power
plant, typically for the rocket-assisted take off of heavily loaded
aircraft, but also to provide high-speed dash capability in some
hybrid designs such as the Saunders-Roe SR.53.
The ornithopter obtains thrust by flapping its wings. It has found
practical use in a model hawk used to freeze prey animals into
stillness so that they can be captured, and in toy birds.
Design and construction
Aircraft are designed according to many factors such as customer and
manufacturer demand, safety protocols and physical and economic
constraints. For many types of aircraft the design process is
regulated by national airworthiness authorities.
The key parts of an aircraft are generally divided into three
The structure comprises the main load-bearing elements and associated
The propulsion system (if it is powered) comprises the power source
and associated equipment, as described above.
The avionics comprise the control, navigation and communication
systems, usually electrical in nature.
The approach to structural design varies widely between different
types of aircraft. Some, such as paragliders, comprise only flexible
materials that act in tension and rely on aerodynamic pressure to hold
their shape. A balloon similarly relies on internal gas pressure but
may have a rigid basket or gondola slung below it to carry its
payload. Early aircraft, including airships, often employed flexible
doped aircraft fabric covering to give a reasonably smooth aeroshell
stretched over a rigid frame. Later aircraft employed semi-monocoque
techniques, where the skin of the aircraft is stiff enough to share
much of the flight loads. In a true monocoque design there is no
internal structure left.
The key structural parts of an aircraft depend on what type it is.
Main article: Aerostat
Lighter-than-air types are characterised by one or more gasbags,
typically with a supporting structure of flexible cables or a rigid
framework called its hull. Other elements such as engines or a gondola
may also be attached to the supporting structure.
Airframe diagram for an
AgustaWestland AW101 helicopter
Heavier-than-air types are characterised by one or more wings and a
central fuselage. The fuselage typically also carries a tail or
empennage for stability and control, and an undercarriage for takeoff
and landing. Engines may be located on the fuselage or wings. On a
fixed-wing aircraft the wings are rigidly attached to the fuselage,
while on a rotorcraft the wings are attached to a rotating vertical
shaft. Smaller designs sometimes use flexible materials for part or
all of the structure, held in place either by a rigid frame or by air
pressure. The fixed parts of the structure comprise the airframe.
Main article: Avionics
The avionics comprise the flight control systems and related
equipment, including the cockpit instrumentation, navigation, radar,
monitoring, and communication systems.
The flight envelope of an aircraft refers to its capabilities in terms
of airspeed and load factor or altitude. The term can also
refer to other measurements such as maneuverability. When a craft is
pushed, for instance by diving it at high speeds, it is said to be
flown outside the envelope, something considered unsafe.
Boeing 777-200LR is the longest-range airliner, capable of flights
of more than halfway around the world.
Main article: Range (aeronautics)
The range is the distance an aircraft can fly between takeoff and
landing, as limited by the time it can remain airborne.
For a powered aircraft the time limit is determined by the fuel load
and rate of consumption.
For an unpowered aircraft, the maximum flight time is limited by
factors such as weather conditions and pilot endurance. Many aircraft
types are restricted to daylight hours, while balloons are limited by
their supply of lifting gas. The range can be seen as the average
ground speed multiplied by the maximum time in the air.
Flight dynamics (aircraft)
Flight dynamics is the science of air vehicle orientation and control
in three dimensions. The three critical flight dynamics parameters are
the angles of rotation around three axes about the vehicle's center of
mass, known as pitch, roll, and yaw (quite different from their use as
Roll is a rotation about the longitudinal axis (equivalent to the
rolling or heeling of a ship) giving an up-down movement of the wing
tips measured by the roll or bank angle.
Pitch is a rotation about the sideways horizontal axis giving an
up-down movement of the aircraft nose measured by the angle of attack.
Yaw is a rotation about the vertical axis giving a side-to-side
movement of the nose known as sideslip.
Flight dynamics is concerned with the stability and control of an
aircraft's rotation about each of these axes.
The tail assembly of a Boeing 747–200
An aircraft that is unstable tends to diverge from its current flight
path and so is difficult to fly. A very stable aircraft tends to stay
on its current flight path and is difficult to manoeuvre—so it is
important for any design to achieve the desired degree of stability.
Since the widespread use of digital computers, it is increasingly
common for designs to be inherently unstable and rely on computerised
control systems to provide artificial stability.
A fixed wing is typically unstable in pitch, roll, and yaw. Pitch and
yaw stabilities of conventional fixed wing designs require horizontal
and vertical stabilisers, which act similarly to the feathers
on an arrow. These stabilizing surfaces allow equilibrium of
aerodynamic forces and to stabilise the flight dynamics of pitch and
yaw. They are usually mounted on the tail section (empennage),
although in the canard layout, the main aft wing replaces the canard
foreplane as pitch stabilizer.
Tandem wing and
Tailless aircraft rely
on the same general rule to achieve stability, the aft surface being
the stabilising one.
A rotary wing is typically unstable in yaw, requiring a vertical
A balloon is typically very stable in pitch and roll due to the way
the payload is hung underneath.
Flight control surfaces enable the pilot to control an aircraft's
flight attitude and are usually part of the wing or mounted on, or
integral with, the associated stabilizing surface. Their development
was a critical advance in the history of aircraft, which had until
that point been uncontrollable in flight.
Aerospace engineers develop control systems for a vehicle's
orientation (attitude) about its center of mass. The control systems
include actuators, which exert forces in various directions, and
generate rotational forces or moments about the aerodynamic center of
the aircraft, and thus rotate the aircraft in pitch, roll, or yaw. For
example, a pitching moment is a vertical force applied at a distance
forward or aft from the aerodynamic center of the aircraft, causing
the aircraft to pitch up or down. Control systems are also sometimes
used to increase or decrease drag, for example to slow the aircraft to
a safe speed for landing.
The two main aerodynamic forces acting on any aircraft are lift
supporting it in the air and drag opposing its motion. Control
surfaces or other techniques may also be used to affect these forces
directly, without inducing any rotation.
Impacts of aircraft use
Main article: Environmental impact of aviation
Aircraft permit long distance, high speed travel and may be a more
fuel efficient mode of transportation in some circumstances. Aircraft
have environmental and climate impacts beyond fuel efficiency
considerations, however. They are also relatively noisy compared to
other forms of travel and high altitude aircraft generate contrails,
which experimental evidence suggests may alter weather patterns.
Uses for aircraft
Aircraft are produced in several different types optimized for various
uses; military aircraft, which includes not just combat types but many
types of supporting aircraft, and civil aircraft, which include all
non-military types, experimental and model.
Boeing B-17E in flight
Main article: Military aircraft
A military aircraft is any aircraft that is operated by a legal or
insurrectionary armed service of any type.
Military aircraft can
be either combat or non-combat:
Combat aircraft are aircraft designed to destroy enemy equipment using
its own armament. Combat aircraft divide broadly into fighters and
bombers, with several in-between types such as fighter-bombers and
ground-attack aircraft (including attack helicopters).
Non-combat aircraft are not designed for combat as their primary
function, but may carry weapons for self-defense. Non-combat roles
include search and rescue, reconnaissance, observation, transport,
training, and aerial refueling. These aircraft are often variants of
Most military aircraft are powered heavier-than-air types. Other types
such as gliders and balloons have also been used as military aircraft;
for example, balloons were used for observation during the American
Civil War and World War I, and military gliders were used during World
War II to land troops.
Agusta A109 helicopter of the Swiss air rescue service
Main article: Civil aviation
Civil aircraft divide into commercial and general types, however there
are some overlaps.
Commercial aircraft include types designed for scheduled and charter
airline flights, carrying passengers, mail and other cargo. The larger
passenger-carrying types are the airliners, the largest of which are
wide-body aircraft. Some of the smaller types are also used in general
aviation, and some of the larger types are used as VIP aircraft.
General aviation is a catch-all covering other kinds of private (where
the pilot is not paid for time or expenses) and commercial use, and
involving a wide range of aircraft types such as business jets
(bizjets), trainers, homebuilt, gliders, warbirds and hot air balloons
to name a few. The vast majority of aircraft today are general
Main article: Experimental aircraft
An experimental aircraft is one that has not been fully proven in
flight, or that carries an FAA airworthiness certificate in the
"Experimental" category. Often, this implies that the aircraft is
testing new aerospace technologies, though the term also refers to
amateur and kit-built aircraft—many based on proven designs.
A model aircraft, weighing six grams
Main article: Model aircraft
A model aircraft is a small unmanned type made to fly for fun, for
static display, for aerodynamic research or for other purposes. A
scale model is a replica of some larger design.
Early flying machines
Flight altitude record
List of aircraft
List of altitude records reached by different aircraft types
List of aviation, aerospace and aeronautical terms
List of civil aircraft
List of fighter aircraft
List of individual aircraft
List of large aircraft
Air traffic control
Flying car/roadable aircraft
Personal air vehicle
Aircraft - Define
Aircraft at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.com.
Archived from the original on 28 March 2015. Retrieved 1 April
^ "Different Kinds & Types of Aircraft". www.wingsoverkansas.com.
Archived from the original on 21 November 2016.
^ US patent 467069 Archived 23 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
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Airship (1902) wright-brothers.org Archived 3 December 2013
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Look up aircraft in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Aircraft.
The Evolution of Modern
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Aviation Dictionary Free aviation terms, phrases and jargons
Types of aircraft by methods of thrust and lift
Lift: Lighter than air gas
Lift: Fixed wing
Lift: Unpowered rotor
Lift: Powered rotor
Unpowered free flight
Helicopter, etc. in autorotation
(None – see note 2)
Tethered (static or towed)
(None – see note 2)
Airplane, ornithopter, etc.
Note 1: A tiltwing or tiltrotor aircraft functions as an aeroplane
during normal (horizontal) flight and as a helicopter during low-speed
Note 2: For full-size aircraft with powered rotors the rotor is
normally tilted to achieve thrust (e.g. in a helicopter). Some toys
(e.g. balloon helicopter) do have a powered rotor with no means to
tilt the rotor to produce horizontal thrust.
Note 3: Ground effect vehicles and hovercraft are not included in the
table, nor are experimental aircraft with novel thrust / lift
solutions (e.g. coleopter, Flying Bedstead, Avrocar and flettner
airplane) or balloon-wing hybrids (e.g. kytoon and hybrid airship).
Lists of aircraft
List of human-powered aircraft
List of unmanned aerial vehicles
Seaplanes and amphibious aircraft
Maximum takeoff weight
very light jets
Douglas / McDonnell Douglas
Early flying machines
By date and usage
By tail number
WWI Central Powers
World War II
World War II
World War II jets
Aircraft components and systems
Aft pressure bulkhead
Flight control modes
Aerodynamic and high-lift
Active Aeroelastic Wing
Adaptive compliant wing
Leading edge cuff
Avionic and flight
Air data computer
Course deviation indicator
Flight management system
Horizontal situation indicator
Turn and slip indicator
Vertical Speed Indicator
devices and fuel systems
Self-sealing fuel tank
Landing and arresting gear
Conventional landing gear
Landing gear extender
Tricycle landing gear
Escape crew capsule
Auxiliary power unit
Bleed air system
Emergency oxygen system
Flight data recorder
Environmental control system
Ice protection system
Passenger service unit
Ram air turbine