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Aerodynamics in Climbs

by Flight Learnings

in Aerodynamic Factors

The ability for an aircraft to climb depends upon an excess power or thrust over what it takes to maintain equilibrium.  Excess power is the available power over and above that required to maintain horizontal flight at a given speed.  Although the terms power and thrust are sometimes used interchangeably (erroneously implying they are synonymous), distinguishing between the two is important when considering climb performance. Work is the product of a force moving through a distance and is usually independent of time. Power implies work rate or units of work per unit of time, and as such is a function of the speed at which the force is developed. Thrust, also a function of work, means the force which imparts a change in the velocity of a mass.

During take off, the aircraft does not stall even though it may be in a climb near the stall speed. The reason is that excess power (used to produce thrust) is used during this flight regime. Therefore, it is important if an engine fails after take off, to compensate the loss of thrust with pitch and airspeed.

For a given weight of the aircraft, the angle of climb depends on the difference between thrust and drag, or the excess thrust. When the excess thrust is zero, the inclination of the flight path is zero, and the aircraft is in steady, level flight.  When thrust is greater than drag, the excess thrust allows a climb angle depending on the amount of excess thrust. When thrust is less than drag, the deficiency of thrust induces an angle of descent.

Acceleration in Cruise Flight

Aircraft accelerate in level flight because of an excess of power over what is required to maintain a steady speed. This is the same excess power used to climb. Upon reaching the desired altitude with pitch being lowered to maintain that altitude, the excess power now accelerates the aircraft to its cruise speed. However, reducing power too soon after level off results in a longer period of time to accelerate.

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