An airframe is the basic mechanical structure of an aircraft, engineered to endure extreme conditions and aerodynamic forces. The airframe structural components also provide for bearing stresses of an aircraft’s payload, crew, and fuel. In general, an airframe can be divided into multiple sections, and these include the fuselage, wings, empennage, and flight control surfaces. In this blog, we will discuss these main airframe structural components, as well as their various designs and functionalities for aircraft.
The fuselage of an aircraft could be considered the main airframe structure that most other structures are attached to. Within this central tube, passengers, crew, and cargo are held. In some single-engine aircraft, the engine will also be placed within the fuselage. The fuselage also provides for flight control, maintaining stabilization and maneuverability. There are multiple fuselage designs that have been implemented across aircraft, and these include truss, monocoque, and semi-monocoque. The truss structural design is still popular for lightweight aircraft, and it consists of box structures of either wood or welded steel that are constructed into a rigid aerodynamic shape. Monocoque shells are exterior surfaces that are strong enough to act as the primary structure, and they may be designed from plywood, fiberglass, and other molds. Semi-monocoque structures are similar to monocoque shells, though they implement frames and stringers to support the shell. Semi-monocoque design is the most widely used structure used for aluminum fuselages and large aircraft.
Attached to each side of the fuselage are the wings of the aircraft. Wings are appendages of the aircraft that act as airfoils, producing lift through aerodynamic forces as they fly through the air. In many aircraft, the fuel is also stored within the wings as a part of the main structure or as flexible containers placed within. In general, wings may be attached at the low, mid, or high end of the fuselage and may vary in number. The main airframe structural components of the wing are the spars, ribs, and stringers. To support these, the skin, trusses, tubing, and other aircraft components act as fortification. Two control surfaces of the flight control system are placed on the wings, and these are the ailerons and flaps. The ailerons allow for pilot control over the aircraft’s roll or bank. Meanwhile, the flaps provide for pilot manipulation of the stalling speed to reduce take-off and landing distance.
The empennage of the airframe is the tail section, containing multiple fixed surfaces and flight control surfaces. Moveable surfaces, such as the rudder, elevator, and trim tabs, allow for the control of the yaw and pitch. The rudder is attached to a hinged surface, controlled by pedals that activate a cable and pulley system to move the surface and affect the yaw. The elevator is installed on the back of the horizontal stabilizer of the empennage and is used to direct the plane upwards or downwards. As a whole, the empennage provides the aircraft with stability and creates more pilot control with flight surfaces.
Across airframe structural components, there are many parts of the flight control system. On the trailing edge of flight control surfaces, tabs are installed and allow for mitigating pressures that are exerted on controls. Below the fuselage, aircraft landing gear allows for a safe landing after flights, as well as a means to taxi around ground surfaces. Speed brakes are also present in this system which are used to slow down the aircraft to safe speeds. If aircraft propeller components are present, they are attached to the front of the engine and may be controlled by the pilot. Many other surfaces and controls may be present on various structures and are operated either manually or automatically during flight.
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