Category Aircraft Flight

Thermodynamic efficiency

In the gas turbine, the burning process causes the air to be heated at virtually constant pressure, in constrast to the piston engine, where the air is heated in an almost constant volume with rapidly rising pressure. The (thermodynamic) efficiency of both types of engine can be shown to depend on the pressure ratio during the initial compression process. Increasing the pressure ratio increases the maximum temperature, and the efficiency is, therefore, limited by the maximum temperature that the materials of the hottest part of the engine can withstand.

The temperature limitation is rather more severe in the gas turbine, since the maximum temperature is sustained continuously, whereas in the piston engine, it is only reached for a fraction of a second during each cycle. For a long time, this factor led to a belief that the gas turbine was so inherently inefficient in comparison with a reciprocating engine, that it was not worth bothering with.

At high altitude, the atmospheric air temperature is reduced, so for a given compressor outlet temperature, a greater temperature and pressure ratio between inlet and outlet can be allowed. Thus, the thermodynamic efficiency tends to rise with increasing altitude. This factor, coupled with the advantages of high altitude flight, described in Chapter 7, makes the high speed turbo-jet – propelled aircraft a surprisingly efficient form of transport. In fact, as we show in Chapter 7, for long-range subsonic jet-propelled transport, there is no eco­nomic advantage in using an aircraft designed to fly slowly.

The thermodynamic efficiency of gas turbines improved dramatically during the first three decades of development mainly because of progress in producing materials capable of sustaining high temperatures, improvements in the cool­ing of critical components, and better aerodynamic design of compressors and turbines.

Maximum angle of climb

Figure 7.11 shows the forces acting on an aircraft in a steady climb. If the climb is steady then there can be no net force acting on the aircraft either along the flightpath, or at right angles to it. If we consider the forces acting along the flightpath we can see (Fig. 7.11) that the sine of the climb angle is given by the difference between thrust and drag divided by the aircraft weight. Thus to operate at the maximum angle of climb possible we need the biggest possible value of thrust minus drag.

If the thrust minus the drag is equal to the weight we have a vertical climb, e. g. the Harrier (Fig. 7.12). If thrust minus drag is greater than the weight then the aircraft will be in an accelerating, rather than a steady climb.

If, however the difference between thrust and drag is less than the aircraft weight, some lift must still be provided by the wings. To be able to climb at all the aircraft must be operating at a height at which the engine is capable of producing more thrust than the drag of the aircraft.

If, for instance, the aircraft is flying straight and level initially we can plot the now familiar variation of drag with flying speed. Let us suppose that the

Fig. 7.13 Climbing flight

Increased throttle setting gives excess of thrust over drag for climb Best climb angle is obtained when thrust minus drag is maximum

aircraft is operating at point A on this curve. An increase in throttle setting will give an available thrust-minus-drag difference for climb as shown (Fig. 7.13). If we know the engine characteristics at the new throttle setting we can optim­ise the airspeed to give the best possible thrust/drag difference.

Here we must turn our attention to the type of powerplant being used once again. If we are dealing with a turbo-jet and thrust will not vary very much with speed in the operating range we are considering. All we need to do therefore is to gratefully accept the maximum thrust that the engine will give and fly at the speed which produces the least amount of drag (point A in Fig. 7.14).

If we are using a piston engine/propeller combination, we have already seen that the thrust falls with increasing speed and so we must reach a compromise between the requirements of airframe and powerplant and operate at a speed somewhat lower than the minimum drag speed in order to achieve the max­imum angle of climb (Fig. 7.15).

At this point a word of caution is necessary. We have estimated the best climbing angle using the drag curves derived for straight and level flight. When the aircraft is climbing examination of the forces normal to the flightpath (Fig. 7.11) shows that the lift developed by the wing will be reduced by a factor equal to the cosine of the climb angle and is thus no longer equal to the aircraft weight. Our drag curve will therefore need to be modified and this, in turn, may change the best speed for climb.

A large number of aircraft, such as civil airliners and military transport air­craft, are not required to indulge in particularly violent manouevres. Although the rate of climb might be quite high, because the forward speed is also high, the angle of climb is frequently not very great. In such cases our original approximation will not be too far from the truth.

Flying wings and blended wing-fuselage concepts

It has long been the dream of aircraft designers to produce civil airliners with no separate tail or fuselage, as with the B2 Spirit bomber (Fig. 4.19). The advantages would include much lower aerodynamic drag, and reduced weight. There are, however, several problems. Much of the structural load on a civil aircraft derives from the stresses due to pressurisation of the cabin, and by far the most efficient cross-sectional shape is a circle. Horizontally-arranged double or multiple bubble arrangements may be used, but passenger access between the bubbles then becomes an issue. Longitudinal stability considera­tions mean that the range of centre of gravity positions is relatively restricted, so passenger movements might need to be controlled. There are also difficulties involved in access and in the placing of passenger external view windows. None of these problems is insuperable, but the real constraint would be the very high costs of such a radical development.

Stability of canard aircraft

The stability criteria for a canard or tail-first configuration aircraft (Fig. 11.8) are essentially the same as for a conventional one. When the aircraft is trimmed, the forward wing (foreplane) should be arranged to generate a higher lift coefficient than the rearward wing (main-plane). The foreplane is therefore usually set at a higher geometric incidence than the main-plane, thus giving lon­gitudinal dihedral. On a canard it is the larger rear wing surface that generates

Fig. 11.8 A stable canard arrangement

The aircraft has to be trimmed with the foreplane generating a higher lift coefficient than the main-plane. The foreplane is therefore normally set at a higher incidence.

most of the lift, so it follows that on a stable canard, both surfaces must be producing lift.

Since both surfaces on a canard produce positive lift, the overall wing area, total weight, and drag can all be lower than for the conventional arrangement. Also, as we have already mentioned, pitch control is achieved by lifting the nose by increasing the foreplane lift, rather than by pushing the tail down. This shortens the take-off run, and generally improves the pitch control character­istics. The manoeuvrability of the canard configuration is one of the features that makes it attractive for interceptor aircraft (see Figs 10.1 and 10.8).

Another claimed advantage of the canard is, that since the foreplane is at a higher angle of attack than the main-plane, the foreplane will stall before the main-plane, thus making such aircraft virtually unstallable. Unfortunately in violent manoeuvres, or highly turbulent conditions this may not be true, and once both planes stall, recovery may be impossible, because neither surface can be used to produce any control effect.

The main problems with the canard configuration stem from interference effects between the foreplane wake and the main wing. In particular, the down – wash from the foreplane tilts the main wing resultant force vector backwards, thus increasing the drag. By careful design, however, the advantages can be made to outweigh the disadvantages, and highly successful canard designs by Burt Rutan such as the Vari-Eze shown in Fig. 4.20 provoked renewed interest in the concept.

For forward-swept wings, as on the X-29 shown in Fig. 9.20, the foreplane interference can be a positive benefit, as the downwash suppresses the tendency of the inboard wing section to stall at high angles of attack.

For pressurised passenger aircraft, the canard arrangement has the added advantage that the main wing spar can pass behind the pressure cabin, as in the Beech Starship shown in Fig. 4.10. A problem remains in that, unless there is a rearward extension of the fuselage, the fin (vertical stabiliser) may have to be large to compensate for the fact that it is not very far aft of the centre of gravity.

Unusual landing requirements

Thus far we have considered the landing manoeuvre for aircraft operating from conventional runways. Within this group we include special short take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft such as the C-17 (Fig. 10.20), since the techniques employed are essentially similar.

Sometimes aircraft are required to have a shorter landing run than is obtain­able by conventional means, as for example in carrier landing. Although the carrier can help by sailing into the wind as fast as possible, the deck is short, and additional deceleration has to be provided by an arrester hook which

Fig. 13.12 The A380 landing

Note the large number of wheels required because of the massive weight (Photo courtesy of R. Wilkinson)

engages with a wire across the deck. The ultimate in landing performance is of course provided by the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) Harrier (Fig. 7.12) or Osprey (Fig. 1.30).

At the other extreme the Space Shuttle (Fig. 8.19) commenced its approach without power at hypersonic speed. We looked at the high speed part of the landing manoeuvre in Chapter 8. The final approach, however, was very sim­ilar to those we have already dealt with, except that there was no longer the option to fly down the glide path under power. The lack of this ability means that it was not possible to be nearly so precise in achieving a particular touch­down point, with the result that a long runway was needed. Since the whole of the re-entry and landing manoeuvre was unpowered accurate computer control was needed right from the point of re-entry if the Shuttle was to end up in the right continent, let alone the right airfield.