If you have had the chance to watch the wings of an aircraft during flight, you may notice that there are often movable surfaces along the structure that are used during various instances. These surfaces are known as flaps, and they are trailing-edge, high-lift devices that enhance an aircraft’s ability to generate lift. With such devices, countless high-speed aircraft can optimally conduct takeoff and landing operations while at a slower velocity than would typically be necessary. As elements of flight that are paramount for many aircraft, it can be highly beneficial to have a general understanding of their use and common types.
The application of flaps will generally be dependent on the type of aircraft, though most tend to rely on them for the means of conducting slower landings. Nevertheless, many others also take advantage of flaps for takeoff, especially those that are designed with a low profile wing configuration. While flaps can increase the amount of lift that a wing generates, it is also important to understand that they increase drag at the same time. As a result, aircraft that rely on flaps for liftoff will only slightly deploy them, meaning that they can enhance their liftoff while ensuring that drag is minimized for safety.
During the landing procedure, on the other hand, the use of flaps is crucial as they allow for many aircraft to quickly descend without having to increase airspeed. This is important for safety and landing efficiency, ensuring that the pilot can undertake a steeper approach with ease. With a steep approach towards the runway, the pilot can best avoid any potential obstacles and maintain an efficient flight path. If a pilot wants to undertake such an approach without the use of flaps, they may then carry out forward slip maneuvers.
The functionality of flaps is based on the aerodynamic factor of angle of attack (AOA). The AOA can be found by determining the angle that exists between the wing’s chord line and the relative wind. With the actuation of flaps, the trailing edge of the wing is adjusted downwards, moving the chord line. This then increases the wing’s AOA, meaning that more lift is generated. Simultaneously, the adjustment of the AOA also increases drag.
Depending on one’s needs, there are four major types of flaps that an aircraft will often feature. These include plain, split, slotted, and Fowler flaps. Plain flaps have a similar appearance to inboard ailerons, and they make up the trailing section of the wing. Generally, these flaps are deployed downward. With split flaps, a surface will pivot downward while the top of the wing remains the same. This is beneficial for aircraft that cannot have a fully adjustable surface for whatever reason. With slotted flaps, such surfaces move slightly away from the main wing, allowing for air to flow on their top and bottom for increased lift. The final primary type is the Fowler flap, those of which travel down and aft. As such, wing area is increased to generate more lift.
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