During straight-and-level flight, thrust and drag are equal in magnitude if a constant airspeed is being maintained. When the thrust of the propeller is increased, thrust momentarily exceeds drag and the airspeed will increase, provided straight-and-level flight is maintained. As stated previously, with an increase in airspeed, drag increases rapidly. At some new and higher airspeed, thrust and drag forces again become equalized and speed again becomes constant.
If all the available power is used, thrust will reach its maximum, airspeed
will increase until drag equals thrust, and once again the airspeed will
become constant. This will be the top speed for that airplane in that configuration
When thrust becomes less than drag, the airplane will decelerate to a slower airspeed, provided straight-and-level flight is maintained, and thrust and drag again become equal. Of course if the airspeed becomes too slow, or more precisely, if the angle of attack is too great, the airplane will stall.
Relationship Between Lift and Weight in Straight-and-Level Flight
A component of lift, the upward force on the wing, always acts perpendicular to the direction of the relative wind. In straight-and-level flight (constant altitude) lift counterbalances the airplane weight. When lift and weight are in equilibrium, the airplane neither gains nor loses altitude. If lift becomes less than weight, the airplane will enter a descent; if lift becomes greater than weight, the airplane will enter a climb. Once a steady-state climb or descent is established, the relationship of the four forces will no longer be the same as in straight-and-level flight. However, for all practical purposes, lift still equals weight for small angles of climb or descent.
Factors Affecting Lift and Drag
A number of the factors that influence lift and drag include:
• Wing Area
• Airfoil Shape
• Wing Design
• Air Density
A change in any of these factors affects the relationship between lift and drag. When lift is increased, drag is increased, or when lift is decreased, drag is decreased.
Effect of Wing Area on Lift and Drag
The lift and drag acting on a wing are proportional to the wing area. This means that if the wing area is doubled, other variables remaining the same, the lift and drag created by the wing will be doubled.
Effect of Airfoil Shape on Lift and Drag
Generally, the more curvature there is to the upper surface of an airfoil, the more lift is produced (up to a point). High-lift wings have a large convex curvature on the upper surface and a concave lower surface. Most airplanes have wing flaps which, when lowered, cause an ordinary wing to approximate this condition by increasing the curvature of the upper surface and creating a concave lower surface, thus increasing lift on the wing. A lowered aileron also accomplishes this by increasing the curvature of a portion of the wing and thereby increasing the angle of attack, which in turn increases lift and also drag. A raised aileron reduces lift on the wing by decreasing the curvature of a portion of the wing and decreasing the angle of attack. The elevators can change the curvature and angle of attack of the horizontal tail surfaces, changing the amount and direction of lift. The rudder accomplishes the same thing for the vertical tail surfaces.
Many people believe that the only hazard of in-flight icing is the weight of the ice which forms on the wings. It is true that ice formation will increase weight, but equally important is that ice formation will alter the shape of the airfoil and adversely affect all aspects of airplane performance and control.
As the ice forms on the airfoil, especially the leading edge,
the flow of air over the wing is disrupted. This disruption of the smooth
airflow causes the wing to lose part or all of its lifting efficiency.
Also, drag is increased substantially.
Even a slight coating of frost on the wings can prevent an airplane from becoming airborne because the smooth flow of air over the wing surface is disrupted and the lift capability of the wing is destroyed. Even more hazardous is becoming airborne with frost on the wing, because performance and control could be adversely affected. This is why it is extremely important that all frost, snow, and ice be removed from the airplane before takeoff.