Here are some short explanations of the basic parts of an aircraft and their purposes. More information will be presented about some of them in later documents.



Fuselage: The fuselage is the “body” of the aircraft. The space in the fuselage is usually occupied mainly by the cabin.



Empennage: This is often referred to as the tail of the aircraft. The empennage includes the horizontal and vertical stabilizers, and the part of the fuselage they protrude from.



Wings: The wings can also be called airfoils. They deflect air downward to provide lift for the aircraft (specifics will be mentioned in a later document). The wings are also a common place for fuel tanks and provide a lot of the longitudinal stability of the aircraft (the longitudinal axis involves banking or rolling: left wing low, right wing high; right wing low, left wing high).



Horizontal Stabilizer: This surface provides most of the aircraft’s lateral (nose up or nose down; the lateral axis involves the pitch of the aircraft) stability and some of its longitudinal stability. It protrudes horizontally, as the name implies, during level flight from the empennage, usually on both sides.



Vertical Stabilizer: This surface provides vertical (yaw: nose right, nose left) stability and also provides some longitudinal stability. It protrudes vertically, again, as the name implies, during level flight from top (in most cases) of the empennage.



Cowling: Cowl for short, is the casing around the engine. In many single engine planes, the cowl is part of the fuselage in front of the cockpit, separated by a firewall.



Engine: (The) Engine(s) provider thrust for the aircraft. The movement generated gets air to flow over and under the wings (in reality, it’s the other way around, with the wing moving through the air, rather than the air moving over the wing), allowing the wings to create lift. Gliders don’t need engines because they use a nose-down attitude to employ gravity as thrust and usually have exceptional glide ratios. They do, however, need another source of thrust to actually get into the air. This is often accomplished by being towed by another aircraft with an engine. Once in the air, they can often stay in the air and maintain altitude by riding thennals (masses of rising air).



Landing Gear: When the aircraft is in the air, wings support it. When the aircraft is on the ground, the landing gear supports it. The most common types of landing gear are wheels, skis, and floats. Sometimes these types are combined (an example is amphibious landing gear, in which wheels can retract to and extend from floats). In some aircraft, to reduce drag, landing gear can be retracted into the fuselage and/or wings. Wheel type landing gear can come in many configurations. The most common of these configurations is tricycle landing gear, a tripod configuration in which the main gear, consisting of two struts, is behind the nose gear, which consists of one strut.



Brakes: Brakes are used on the ground to slow the aircraft down (usually on the landing roll) or to help turn the aircraft (on the ground). In most cases, brakes consist of a metal disc attached to the wheel and two pads meant to efficiently generate friction. When the wheels are turning and brake pressure is applied, it is transferred to the brake pads via a hydraulic tube and presses the two pads against the disc. Because of the connection to the wheel, when the disc’s rotation slows down, so does the wheel.



Control Surfaces: These movable surfaces allow pilots to control the attitude (position on all axis) of a fixed winged aircraft and will have explanations in the next two documents of this column.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.