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Pressure Altitude – Climb Performance (Part Two)

in Aircraft Performance

Of greater interest in climb performance are the factors that affect the rate of climb. The vertical velocity of an aircraft depends on the flight speed and the inclination of the flightpath. In fact, the rate of climb is the vertical component of the flightpath velocity.

For rate of climb, the maximum rate would occur where there exists the greatest difference between power available and power required. [Figure 10-8] The above relationship means that, for a given weight of an aircraft, the rate of climb depends on the difference between the power available and the power required, or the excess power. Of course, when the excess power is zero, the rate of climb is zero and the aircraft is in steady, level flight. When power available is greater than the power required, the excess power will allow a rate of climb specific to the magnitude of excess power.

Figure 10-8. Power versus climb rate.

Figure 10-8. Power versus climb rate.

During a steady climb, the rate of climb will depend on excess power while the angle of climb is a function of excess thrust.

The climb performance of an aircraft is affected by certain variables. The conditions of the aircraft’s maximum climb angle or maximum climb rate occur at specific speeds, and variations in speed will produce variations in climb performance. There is sufficient latitude in most aircraft that small variations in speed from the optimum do not produce large changes in climb performance, and certain operational considerations may require speeds slightly different from the optimum. Of course, climb performance would be most critical with high gross weight, at high altitude, in obstructed takeoff areas, or during malfunction of a powerplant. Then, optimum climb speeds are necessary.

Weight has a very pronounced effect on aircraft performance. If weight is added to an aircraft, it must fly at a higher angle of attack (AOA) to maintain a given altitude and speed. This increases the induced drag of the wings, as well as the parasite drag of the aircraft. Increased drag means that additional thrust is needed to overcome it, which in turn means that less reserve thrust is available for climbing. Aircraft designers go to great effort to minimize the weight since it has such a marked effect on the factors pertaining to performance.

A change in an aircraft’s weight produces a twofold effect on climb performance. First, a change in weight will change the drag and the power required. This alters the reserve power available, which in turn, affects both the climb angle and the climb rate. Secondly, an increase in weight will reduce the maximum rate of climb, but the aircraft must be operated at a higher climb speed to achieve the smaller peak climb rate.

An increase in altitude also will increase the power required and decrease the power available. Therefore, the climb performance of an aircraft diminishes with altitude. The speeds for maximum rate of climb, maximum angle of climb, and maximum and minimum level flight airspeeds vary with altitude. As altitude is increased, these various speeds finally converge at the absolute ceiling of the aircraft. At the absolute ceiling, there is no excess of power and only one speed will allow steady, level flight. Consequently, the absolute ceiling of an aircraft produces zero rate of climb. The service ceiling is the altitude at which the aircraft is unable to climb at a rate greater than 100 feet per minute (fpm). Usually, these specific performance reference points are provided for the aircraft at a specific design configuration. [Figure 10-9]

Figure 10-9. Absolute and service ceiling.

Figure 10-9. Absolute and service ceiling.

In discussing performance, it frequently is convenient to use the terms power loading, wing loading, blade loading, and disk loading. Power loading is expressed in pounds per horsepower and is obtained by dividing the total weight of the aircraft by the rated horsepower of the engine.

It is a significant factor in an aircraft’s takeoff and climb capabilities. Wing loading is expressed in pounds per square foot and is obtained by dividing the total weight of an airplane in pounds by the wing area (including ailerons) in square feet. It is the airplane’s wing loading that determines the landing speed. Blade loading is expressed in pounds per square foot and is obtained by dividing the total weight of a helicopter by the area of the rotor blades. Blade loading is not to be confused with disk loading, which is the total weight of a helicopter divided by the area of the disk swept by the rotor blades.


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