Energy is typically defined as something that gives us the capacity to perform work. As individuals, saying that we feel full of energy is probably indicating that we can perform a lot of work. Energy can be classified as one of two types: either potential or kinetic.

Potential Energy

Potential energy is defined as being energy at rest, or energy that is stored. Potential energy may be classified into three groups: (1) that due to position, (2) that due to distortion of an elastic body, and (3) that which produces work through chemical action. Water in an elevated reservoir, and an airplane raised off the ground sitting on jacks are examples of the first group; a stretched bungee chord on a Piper Tri-Pacer or compressed spring are examples of the second group; and energy in aviation gasoline, food, and storage batteries are examples of the third group.

To calculate the potential energy of an object due to its position, as in height, the following formula is used:

Potential Energy = Weight × Height

A calculation based on this formula will produce an answer that has units of foot-pounds (ft-lb) or inchpounds (in-lb), which are the same units that apply to work. Work, which is covered later in this chapter, is described as a force being applied over a measured distance, with the force being pounds and the distance being feet or inches. It can be seen that potential energy and work have a lot in common.

Example: A Boeing 747 weighing 450,000 pounds needs to be raised 4 feet in the air so maintenance can be done on the landing gear. How much potential energy does the airplane possess because of this raised position?

Potential Energy = Weight × Height
PE = 450,000 lb × 4 ft
PE = 1,800,000 ft-lb

As mentioned previously, aviation gasoline possesses potential energy because of its chemical nature. Gasoline has the potential to release heat energy, based on its British thermal unit (BTU) content. One pound of aviation gas contains 18,900 BTU of heat energy, and each BTU is capable of 778 ft-lb of work. So if we multiply 778 by 18,900, we find that one pound of aviation gas is capable of 14,704,200 ft-lb of work. Imagine the potential energy in the completely serviced fuel tanks of an airplane.

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