Whenever a machine is in operation, be it a simple machine like a lever or a screw, or a more complex machine like an aircraft piston engine or a hydraulically operated landing gear, the parts and pieces of that machine will experience something called stress. Whenever an external force is applied to an object,like a weight pushing on the end of a lever, a reaction will occur inside the object which is known as stress. Stress is typically measured in pounds per square foot or pounds per square inch (psi).

An external force acting on an object causes the stress to manifest itself in one of five forms, or combination of those five. The five forms are tension, compression, torsion, bending, and shear.


Tension is a force that tries to pull an object apart. In the block and tackle system discussed earlier in this chapter, the upper block that housed the two fixed pulleys was secured to an overhead beam. The movable lower block and its two pulleys were hanging by ropes, and the weight was hanging below the entire assembly. The weight being lifted would cause the ropes and the blocks to be under tension. The weight is literally trying to pull the rope apart, and ultimately would cause the rope to break if the weight was too great.


Compression is a force that tries to crush an object. An excellent example of compression is when a sheet metal airplane is assembled using the fastener known as a rivet. The rivet passes through a hole drilled in the pieces of aluminum, and then a rivet gun on one side and a bucking bar on the other apply a force. This applied force tries to crush the rivet and makes it expand to fill the hole and securely hold the aluminum pieces together. [Figure 3-19]


Torsion is the stress an object experiences when it is twisted, which is what happens when torque is applied to a shaft. Torsion is actually made up of two other stresses: tension and compression. When a shaft is twisted, tension is experienced at a diagonal to the shaft and compression acts 90 degrees to the tension. [Figure 3-20]

The turbine shaft on a turbofan engine, which connects to the compressor in order to drive it, is under a torsion stress. The turbine blades extract energy from the high velocity air as a force in pounds. This force in pounds acts along the length from the blades to the center of the shaft, and creates the torque that causes rotation. [Figure 3-21]


An airplane in flight experiences a bending force on the wing as aerodynamic lift tries to raise the wing. This force of lift actually causes the skin on the top of the wing to compress and the skin on the bottom of the wing to be under tension. When the airplane is on the ground sitting on its landing gear, the force of gravity tries to bend the wing downward, subjecting the bottom of the wing to compression and the top of the wing to tension. [Figure 3-22] During the testing that occurs prior to FAA certification, an airplane manufacturer intentionally bends the wing up and down to make sure it can take the stress without failing.

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