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# 11/11/2016

Newton'sFirstLawAppliedtoanAircraft

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SirIsaacNewtonfirstpresentedhisthreelawsofmotioninthe"PrincipiaMathematicaPhilosophiaeNaturalis"in1686.His
firstlawstatesthateveryobjectremainsatrestorinuniformmotioninastraightlineunlesscompelledtochangeitsstate
bytheactionofanexternalforce.Thisisnormallytakenasthedefinitionofinertia.Thekeypointhereisthatifthereisno
netforceresultingfromunbalancedforcesactingonanobject(ifalltheexternalforcescanceleachotherout),thenthe
objectmaintainsaconstantvelocity.Ifthatvelocityiszero,thentheobjectremainsatrest.Andifanadditionalexternal
forceisapplied,thevelocitychangesbecauseoftheforce.
Anaircraftinflightisaparticularlygoodexampleofthefirstlawofmotion.Therearefourmajorforcesactingonanaircraft
lift,weight,thrust,anddrag.Ifweconsiderthemotionofanaircraftataconstantaltitude,wecanneglecttheliftand
weight.Acruisingaircraftfliesataconstantairspeedandthethrustexactlybalancesthedragoftheaircraft.Thisisthe
firstpartsitedinNewton'sfirstlawthereisnonetforceontheairplaneandittravelsataconstantvelocityinastraight
line.
Nowifthepilotchangesthethrustoftheengine,thethrustanddragarenolongerinbalance.Ifthethrustisincreased,the
aircraftacceleratesandthevelocityincreases.ThisisthesecondpartsitedinNewton'sfirstlawanetexternalforce
changesthevelocityoftheobject.Thedragoftheaircraftdependsonthesquareofthevelocity.Sothedragincreases
withincreasedvelocity.Eventually,thenewdragequalsthenewthrustlevelandatthatpoint,theforcesagainbalanceout,
andtheaccelerationstops.Theairplanecontinuestoflyatanewconstantvelocitythatishigherthantheinitialvelocity.
Weareagainbacktothefirstpartofthelawwiththeaircrafttravelingataconstantvelocity.
Remember,inthissimpleexample,thatweareonlyconsideringthemotionoftheaircraftinahorizontaldirectionweare
neglectinganyeffectsofthethrustonweightoronlift.Onrealaircraft,increasingthethrottlesettingincreasesthefuel
usageanddecreasestheweight,andtheincreaseinvelocityincreasestheliftaswellasthedrag.Eachofthesechanges
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11/11/2016

Newton'sFirstLawAppliedtoanAircraft

affecttheverticalmotionoftheaircraft,buttosimplifyourunderstandingofNewton'slaws,weareneglectingtheseeffects
inthisexample.
It'simportanttopointouttheroleofenginethrustinthisexample.Thrustisusedtoacceleratetheaircraft,tochangeits
velocity,andthrustisusedtobalancethedragwhentheaircraftiscruisingataconstantvelocity.Wenormallythinkof
onlythefirstroleacceleration.Forfighterplaneshighthrustisdesirable.Butsomeaircraft,likejetairliners,spendmost
oftheirexistenceincruisingflightbalancingthedrag.Inthatroleengineefficiency(lowfuelusage)isdesirable.Depending
onthemissionoftheaircraft,differenttypesofenginesaredesignedtoprovidehighthrustorhighefficiency.
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