Physical science, or physics as it is most often called, is a very interesting and exciting topic. For the individual who likes technical things and is a hands-on type person, it is an invaluable tool. Physics allows us to explain how engines work, both piston and gas turbine; how airplanes and helicopters fly; and countless other things related to the field of aviation and aerospace. In addition to allowing us to explain the operation of the things around us, it also allows us to quantify them. For example, through the use of physics we can explain what the concept of thrust means for a jet engine, and then follow it up by mathematically calculating the pounds of thrust being created.

Physics is the term applied to that area of knowledge regarding the basic and fundamental nature of matter and energy. It does not attempt to determine why matter and energy behave as they do in their relation to physical phenomena, but rather how they behave. The people who maintain and repair aircraft should have a knowledge of basic physics, which is sometimes called the science of matter and energy.


Matter is the foundation or the building blocks for any discussion of physics. According to the dictionary, matter is what all things are made of; whatever occupies space, has mass, and is perceptible to the senses in some way. According to the Law of Conservation, matter cannot be created or destroyed, but it is possible to change its physical state. When liquid gasoline vaporizes and mixes with air, and then burns, it might seem that this piece of matter has disappeared and no longer exists. Although it no longer exists in the state of liquid gasoline, the matter still exists in the form of the gases given off by the burning fuel.

Characteristics of Matter

Mass and Weight

Mass is a measure of the quantity of matter in an object. In other words, how many molecules are in the object,or how many atoms, or to be more specific, how many protons, neutrons, and electrons. The mass of an object does not change regardless of where you take it in the universe, and it does not change with a change of state. The only way to change the mass of an object is to add or take away atoms. Mathematically, mass can be stated as follows:

Mass = Weight ÷ Acceleration due to gravity

The acceleration due to gravity here on earth is 32.2 feet per second per second (32.2 fps/s). An object weighing 32.2 pounds (lb) here on earth is said to have a mass of 1 slug. A slug is a quantity of mass that will accelerate at a rate of 1 ft/s2 when a force of 1 pound is applied. In other words, under standard atmospheric conditions (gravity equal to 32.2) a mass of one slug is equal to 32.2 lb.

Weight is a measure of the pull of gravity acting on the mass of an object. The more mass an object has, the more it will weigh under the earth’s force of gravity. Because it is not possible for the mass of an object to go away, the only way for an object to be weightless is for gravity to go away. We view astronauts on the space shuttle and it appears that they are weightless. Even though the shuttle is quite a few miles above the surface of the earth, the force of gravity has not gone away, and the astronauts are not weightless. The astronauts and the space shuttle are in a state of free fall, so relative to the shuttle the astronauts appear to be weightless. Mathematically, weight can be stated as follows:

Weight = Mass × Gravity


Attraction is the force acting mutually between particles of matter, tending to draw them together. Sir Isaac Newton called this the “Law of Universal Gravitation." He showed how each particle of matter attracts every other particle, how people are bound to the earth, and how the planets are attracted in the solar system.

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