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Parts of an Airplane and Their Function

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The anatomy of an airplane is complex, with each component meticulously designed for safety, efficiency, and performance.

In this article we’ll go over all of the major parts of an airplane.

Fuselage

The fuselage is the central body of an airplane and a principal structure to which all other parts are attached.

It is the enclosed part of an airplane that houses the cockpit, passengers, and cargo.

Not just a container, the fuselage is integral to the structural integrity of the aircraft, contributing to its overall aerodynamics and stability.

It’s the fuselage on a plane that bears the stresses of flight and, in the case of pressurized cabins, maintains a life-sustaining environment at high altitudes.

Airplane Fuselage

Wings

Wings are a crucial part of an airplane, designed to provide the necessary lift and control for flight.

They are composed of various components that contribute to their overall function. Let’s look at some key parts of the wing and their specific roles.

Ailerons

Ailerons are the moving parts found at the trailing edge of the wing, near the wingtips. They control the airplane’s roll motion, allowing the pilot to make turns or stabilize the aircraft.

When the right aileron moves up, it increases the lift on that side, making the right wing rise and causing the plane to bank left, and vice versa.

Ailerons

Flaps

Flaps are located on the trailing edge of the wings, adjacent to the ailerons.

These devices can be extended to increase the lift or decrease the speed of an aircraft. Flaps are particularly useful during takeoff and landing, allowing for a steeper ascent or descent without an increase in airspeed.

Airplane Flaps

Winglets

Winglets are the small, vertical fins at the tips of the wings. They improve an aircraft’s efficiency by reducing drag, specifically vortex drag, which occurs at the wingtips as the airplane moves through the air.

Slats

Slats are similar to flaps, but they’re situated on the leading edge of the wing.

They are deployed to increase the wing’s surface area and curvature. This change allows for higher lift at lower speeds, which is crucial during takeoff and when maneuvering at slower velocities.

Spoilers

Spoilers are rectangular panels found on the upper surface of the wing designed to disrupt the airflow over the wing, reducing lift and increasing drag. They are primarily used for roll control and to help the airplane slow down or descend more rapidly.

When deployed symmetrically, spoilers can also act as air brakes, useful during descent and landing.

Airplane spoilers

Tail (Empennage)

The tail section, or empennage, of an airplane provides stability and control. It consists of several components, each with a specific aerodynamic function.

Horizontal Stabilizer and Elevator

The horizontal stabilizer maintains the aircraft’s pitch stability. It serves to counteract the pitching moment generated by the wings and helps balance the airplane in flight. 

Connected to the trailing edge of the horizontal stabilizer is the elevator. This movable control surface is responsible for changing the airplane’s pitch attitude.

By manipulating the elevator, you can make the aircraft’s nose go up or down. In flight, you might adjust the elevator to ascend, descend or maintain level flight.

There are several different styles of horizontal stabilizers and elevators. You can learn more in our article on elevators.

horizontal stabilizer and elevator

Vertical Stabilizer and Rudder

Similar to the horizontal stabilizer, the vertical stabilizer is a fixed surface positioned vertically at the rear of the airplane.

Its main function is to provide yaw stability, ensuring the aircraft remains stable while moving left or right.

Attached to the rear edge of the vertical stabilizer is the rudder. This movable control surface allows you to change the airplane’s yaw, or its orientation to the left or right.

Just as the elevators control pitch, the rudder is responsible for turning the aircraft when needed.

Airplane Rudder and vertical stabilizer

Engine(s)

The engine provides the necessary power and thrust to propel an aircraft through the air.

There are different types of engines that power airplanes, and they can be broadly classified into piston engines and gas turbines.

In this section, we will discuss the main types of aircraft engines and their functions.

Piston Engines

Piston engines are commonly found in smaller, general aviation aircraft.

They function similarly to automobile engines, converting fuel and air into mechanical energy by compressing a fuel-air mixture in a cylinder and igniting it with a spark plug.

The resulting expansion of gases pushes against a piston, moving it up and down. This motion is then transferred through a crankshaft to the propulsion system – typically a propeller.

Piston engines can be fuel-efficient and are simple to maintain.

Airplane piston engine

Turbine Engines

Gas turbines, also known as jet engines or turbine engines, are used in most modern commercial and military aircraft.

They create thrust by compressing and heating air, which is combined with fuel and ignited in a combustion chamber. The resulting high-temperature, high-pressure gases then expand and exit the engine at very high speeds, generating thrust.

Gas turbines come in various types, including turbojets, turbofans, and turboprops.

Airplane turbine engine

Propeller

Linked directly to the engines in propeller-driven aircraft, propellers function as rotating airfoils that convert rotational energy into linear thrust.

They slice through the air, creating a pressure difference that propels the airplane forward.

There are nuances to propeller mechanics that pilots must understand as they affect takeoff, cruising, and landing performance.

Airplane propeller

Landing Gear

The landing gear is responsible for supporting the aircraft during takeoff, landing, and ground operations. They consist of a combination of wheels, floats, or skis, depending on the aircraft type and its specific requirements.

During takeoff and landing, the wheels absorb the impact forces and make ground operations smoother. These wheels are often constructed with advanced materials to withstand the immense pressure and wear they experience during regular usage.

In some instances, like when landing on water, other types of landing gear, such as floats, are required. Floats are designed to enable aircraft to land and take off from water surfaces, making them essential for seaplanes and amphibious aircraft.

Skis, on the other hand, are another type of specialized landing gear used for aircraft that need to take off and land on snow or ice.

During flight, the landing gear is usually retracted to reduce drag and enhance fuel efficiency.

This process involves various hydraulic or electrical operations, ensuring safe and efficient movement of the gear. Most small aircraft such as the Piper Archer or Cessna 172 don’t have retractable landing gear.

Airplane landing gear

Airplane Cockpit

The cockpit is the command center of any airplane, and it houses all the essential equipment needed for the pilot to operate the aircraft safely. In this section, we’ll explore the various components found in the cockpit.

Airplane cockpit

Instrument Panel

The instrument panel in a plane cockpit holds a number of gauges and displays providing vital flight information to the pilot. It includes altimeters, speed indicators, and navigation aids, among others.

Modern cockpits are equipped with glass panels that integrate these readings into digital multi-function displays such as the Garmin G1000.

Airplane instrument panel

Overhead Panel

The overhead panel in a cockpit houses controls for various aircraft systems such as electrical, fuel, hydraulics, and environmental controls. Exactly what controls are located in the overhead panel will vary across aircraft.

Flight Controls

The main flight controls in the cockpit are the control yoke or stick, rudder pedals, and throttle.

These allow the pilot to adjust the airplane’s control surfaces (aileron, rudder, and elevator) to manipulate the aircraft’s movement.

  • Yoke or Stick: This control is used to maneuver the ailerons and elevator, enabling the pilot to control the plane’s pitch (up and down) and roll (left and right).
  • Rudder Pedals: Located on the cockpit floor, these pedals control the rudder, which helps steer the airplane, particularly during taxiing and coordinating turns.
  • Throttle: The throttle regulates the engine power, determining the airplane’s speed and climb rate.
Airplane flight controls

Rudder Pedals

As mentioned earlier, rudder pedals are located on the cockpit floor and are used by the pilot to control the aircraft’s yaw.

They help the pilot maintain directional control, especially during takeoff, landing, and taxiing. 

Pilot Seats

Pilot seats in the cockpit are designed for comfort and functionality.

They are adjustable to ensure that pilots have the proper line of sight and reach to all controls, which is essential during different phases of flight.

Side Consoles

Side consoles are situated on both sides of the pilot and house various instruments and controls. While not installed in all airplanes, when they may include items such as trim controls and avionics switches.

These components are essential for managing the aircraft’s performance during takeoff, landing, and other critical flight phases.

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