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Aviation Education
Types of Aircraft

Valkaria Airport is primarily a recreational, general aviation airport. This means that most of the flights using it are non-commercial, for either recreational, personal travel, or flight training purposes. There are also significant amounts of public use flights... in other words, flights by government entities flying to support the needs of the community at large. These include law enforcement, mosquito control, and fire fighting missions.

There are many kinds of aircraft that can or do use Valkaria Airport. Here is a brief overview of some of the many types of flying machines you might see here, or at any local airport.


LIGHTER-THAN-AIR AIRCRAFT

Hot-air balloons taking off.
Hot-air balloons use propane burners as their heat source.
The US Navy's rigid airship USS Akron in 1931.
The Goodyear Blimp is probably the most well-known airship.
In the beginning, there were balloons... the first manned balloons flew in the 1700's! These graceful aircraft use buoyancy to float, just like a boat... the weight of the balloon is less than that of the air it displaces, which makes it rise. The most commonly-seen balloons use propane burners to heat the air in their envelope, and since hot air is less dense than the cooler outside air, the balloon rises. To come down, the pilot lets the envelope cool down by staying off the burner. There are also helium balloons, which are much less common, and depend on balancing the controlled release of helium or ballast (water or sand) to stay at altitude. Recently a sport called cluster ballooning has begun to be developed. This involves taking numerous large helium balloons (like weather balloons) instead of having one large (and very expensive) envelope. To come down, the balloonist will either release or pop individual balloons. Balloons usually only have control over their altitude, steering is accomplished by changing altitude to find winds heading in different directions (obviously, the term "steering" is somewhat of a relative term in ballooning!) Occupants on a balloon feel little breeze, as they are always moving at the same speed as the wind around them.

Inevitably, the desire for more control lead to experimentation, and the steerable airship was born, also called a dirigible. You might know this idea best as a blimp. This combines the lifting capacity of a helium envelope with engines, rudders, and elevators for locomotion and steering. In the early part of the 20th century, many airships were built using a rigid framework that created the shape of the envelope, with a gondola (cabin) underneath to accommodate the crew and passengers. This concept is called a rigid airship, and it was most fully developed by Count Zeppelin in Germany, whose name became synonymous with the rigid airship. During World War 1, Zeppelins were used to bomb London, though it wasn't long before they were unable to escape attacking fighters and anti-aircraft artillery... a large airship just isn't able to do any kind of "fast" evasive maneuver!

In the 1930s, the US Army even had some large dirigibles that were used as flying aircraft carriers, launching and recovering fighter planes from a trapeze-like hook underneath!

While there is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of a rigid airship, the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 cast a negative light over the idea. While the source of the spark or fire that caused the Hindenburg to explode while landing was never absolutely determined (and will be debated for the rest of time), the fatal flaw with the German Zeppelin airships was actually due to America's refusal to sell them large amounts of helium gas. Since Germany couldn't obtain enough helium, they filled their airships with highly flammable hydrogen gas... more buoyant, but certainly far riskier. After the Hindenburg disaster, hydrogen was no longer used in airships, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, the public relations disaster that ensued from the Hindenburg crash doomed the passenger airship industry... people lost faith that it was a safe way to travel.

Despite that disaster, airships continued to be developed, and with the outbreak of World War 2 many uses were found for them. In the US, the non-rigid airship (one whose shape was maintained only by the pressure of the gas inside the envelope) came into favor, and were known by the name we call them today... the blimp. Supposedly, the names comes from the sound they make when you thump the envelope. The Goodyear company built many non-rigid airships for the US Navy, which used them very effectively as patrol aircraft... a blimp a few hundred feet up was an excellent perch from which to spot an enemy submarine stalking a convoy.

In the 1950s, as new technologies took over the roles that were once performed by blimps, they were slowly retired from military uses. However, the Goodyear company took their experience in the field to create a new phenomenon... the blimp as a civilian aircraft, well suited to use for aerial advertising as well as carrying cameras over sports and other events. In the 1980s, other companies started producing blimps, with innovations such as internally-lighted envelopes. Today, blimps have come to represent a unique and instantly recognizable aircraft that draws attention wherever it goes.

There is even a crossover between the blimp and hot-air balloon... recently, an enterprising homebuilder has created and flown a semi-rigid airship that uses hot air for buoyancy, but which has engines and is steerable. Whether this will catch on remains to be seen!


GLIDERS, SAILPLANES, MOTORGLIDERS, HANG GLIDERS, AND PARAGLIDERS

A gaggle of sailplanes share a large thermal.
The Windex 1200C is a motorglider with a small engine on the tail.
The Northwestern XPG-1 Combat Glider was designed to carry troops and equipment into the middle of the battlefield.
This ultralight and inexpensive "airchair" glider design is called a Goat.
The U-2 spy plane is essentially just a large, jet-powered glider.
While we're most familiar with aircraft with engines, the first aircraft were unpowered. Or, more correctly, they used gravity as their power source, much like a car coasting down a hill with the engine off. A glider refers to any unpowered aircraft. Most aircraft designed as gliders are better described by the term sailplane. A sailplane is designed for the maximum efficiency, so that it can stay up as long as possible after launch... it may be towed into the air behind a powered aircraft, winched up on a cable being pulled by a motorized reel or a car, or it could even be launched by foot!

Fortunately for sailplane enthusiasts, the air around us doesn't just move sideways, it often moves up and down. Wind blowing into a hill, mountain, or cliff must rise in order to pass over the obstruction, creating an upward flow of air known as slope lift. When the sun heats up a dark field, parking lot, or other area on the ground or water, the heated air above it can begin to rise, forming a bubble of rising, warmer air known as a thermal. The winds behind a mountain range often forms tremendously large oscillations of air known as mountain waves. All of these vertical wind features comprise what glider pilots call lift. If the upward speed of the air is equal to the downward sink rate of the glider, the aircraft will maintain altitude, much like walking slowly down an upward-moving escalator. If the air is rising faster than the glider is sinking, the aircraft will gain altitude! Using knowledge of these weather phenomenon, gliders routinely stay up for hours at a time and fly cross-country flights of hundreds or even thousands of miles! In an abstract sense, gliders are really powered by gravity and the sun, but in an indirect way.

An aircraft that is designed primarily as a glider or sailplane, but which has an engine installed for launching purposes, is known as a motorglider, or as a self-launching sailplane. These may be flown by pilots with a glider rating. They can often be used as a normal airplane would be, but they generally have limited power and fuel, and are not terribly fast. One advantage of a motorglider is that if the pilot gets too low when the lift disappears and they can't make it to their normal airport, they don't have to land in a field and wait for someone to bring the trailer... the pilot just starts up the engine and flies home. The downside (there's always a downside) is that the engine adds weight, complexity, and drag... all of which serves to reduce the performance and increase the purchase and operating costs of the sailplane. (Then again, you don't have to pay for an aero-tow when you want to fly, nor do you have to fly from an established gliderport...)

In World War 2, combat gliders were developed to deliver troops, vehicles, and supplies to the front lines. These large aircraft were towed, sometimes two or three at a time, behind transport planes to be released near the landing zone. Combat gliders didn't have the high performance of recreational sailplanes. However, they were cheap to build, didn't require many strategic materials (like engines), they were expendable, and could carry a decent number of troops and equipment right into a battle zone. Sometimes, combat gliders were adapted from existing powered aircraft, or vice-versa. In fact, the venerable C-123 Provider twin-engine transport was originally designed as a large combat glider design.

Hang Gliders are a simple form of aircraft that uses a triangular fabric wing supported by aluminum tubing, which is also called a Rogallo Wing after the NASA scientist who developed it... it turned out to be used a lot more for recreation than to return spacecraft to earth! The pilot is suspended underneath the wing, and he holds onto a trapeze-like bar. The pilot controls the aircraft by shifting his or her weight. Pitch is controlled by moving forward or backwards, and roll is controlled by moving side to side. Hang gliders were the basis for two other classes of aircraft. The first ultralights were merely hang gliders to which small motors had been added to allow for launching on flat terrain. Later, the "trike" married the hang glider's flexible wing to a pod with seats, wheels, and an engine. Like a hang glider, a trike is still controlled with a trapeze that moves the wing in relation to the pod, but it can be used like a regular aircraft.

Almost all powered aircraft can glide if the engine is turned off or fails, though usually not as well as an aircraft designed from the start for good glide performance. In fact, a giant 747 jumbo jet airliner once flew into a volcanic ash cloud, which stopped all four engines! They had to glide for many minutes, but were finally able to restart the engines and make a safe landing. Then there's the famed "Gimli Glider", the Air Canada 737 airliner that ran out of fuel (due to a mix-up between metric and English units) which was able to successfully land without any power. There are also many cases where experienced glider pilots flying powered aircraft have, just for fun, used their experience with thermals and slope lift to gain altitude with the engine off, though the plane was never intended for use as a glider. The famous U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane is essentially just a glider with a jet engine... the efficiency of it's glider-like wings enable it to reach altitudes well over 70,000 feet, and to glide for hundreds of miles to safety if the engine fails during a mission! Then of course there's the Space Shuttle, in some ways the ultimate gliding machine. It's glide ratio is poor by any normal aeronautical standards, but it's good enough to land safely at the end of a mission. On the opposite end of the scale, parachutists can also use thermal or slope lift to glide as well. The paraglider is one of the simplest possible aircraft... it's basically just a parachute rig that's been designed and optimized for use as a full-time glider, rather than for deployment after a free-fall.


ULTRALIGHTS AND VERY LIGHT AIRCRAFT

Technically, a true ultralight is NOT an aircraft! It is an "aerial vehicle" as defined in Federal Air Regulations (FAR) Part 103. A flying machine meeting the definition of FAR Part 103 is a simple, one-seat flying vehicle operated only for recreational or sport purposes. They are intended as simple, low-cost means to fly with few restrictions, which are intended mainly to confine the potential risks to the operator of the vehicle. Ultralight vehicles require no pilot certificate to fly, though only a suicidal fool would attempt to fly one without at least a basic amount of dual flight instruction! Sadly, that truism has been proven a number of times. Legal ultralights must have an empty weight of 254 lbs. or less (155 lbs. if an unpowered glider or if it's a lighter-than-air vehicle), be incapable of exceeding 63 mph in level flight, stalls at not more than 28 mph (power off), carry no more than 5 gallons of fuel, and have not more than one engine. A sport which started in the 1970's when hang glider enthusiasts tried installing tiny engines to their craft has evolved over time into a wide variety of capable recreational aircraft which nowadays usually have normal airplane-style flight controls, partially or fully enclosed cabins, and often use advanced construction techniques.

Ultralights are not registered with the FAA and do not have N-numbers, though many owners do elect to register their ultralights with the FAA. Once the aircraft has an N-Number, it may be operated as a regular airplane... it can use more airports, fly in more airspace, and you don't have the restrictions on weight, fuel capacity, number of seats, and flight speed. However, you must have an appropriate pilot certificate to fly it. Historically, it has always been an open secret that many "ultralights" were actually outside the bounds of the rules in Part 103... these "fat ultralights" usually were a bit too heavy or flew just a little too fast. The FAA wasn't able to put a lot of effort into policing these non-legal vehicles, though occasionally someone would get ramp-checked, caught with an illegal ultralight, and hit with some big fines or such. With the advent of the Sport Pilot rules, the FAA created "amnesty program" for these machines, allowing owners to register them as Light Sport Aircraft by a certain deadline without fear of getting in trouble for admitting to having been flying them. While these owners will need to get a Sport Pilot certificate, there were also provisions to accept their ultralight flight experience to count towards this rating. Part 103 remains valid, so the ultralight enthusiasts whose vehicles are truly legal (or can be made so) are able to continue operating under the simple rules of Part 103.

Many light ultralight-like aircraft are informally referred to as "ultralights" even though they don't fit Part 103, and many true ultralights have evolved over time into bigger, more capable machines which are well outside the Part 103 definition, but still retain the looks and name of the original design. For example, the original CGS Hawk was one of the first truly airplane-like ultralights, and enjoyed great success. Today, there are several models of the Hawk in production... only one of which is a true ultralight (the rest are LSA compliant).

The Howland H-3 Pegasus ultralight uses TIG-welded square aluminum tubing construction. Ed Fisher's Flitplane. The Kolb Firestar II is a popular design. Many ultralights are designed to fold up easily and be trailered home, eliminating the necessity of renting a hangar.
The Hummel Ultra-Cruiser features all-aluminum sheet construction. This World War 1 "fighter" is actually an ultralight! When ultralights first gained popularity in the late 1970's and early 1980s, many designs looked a lot like this.
The Drifter is another well-known design. This one is a two-seat model. The Sorrell Hiperlight has the good looks of it's big brother, the Hiperbipe (but this one isn't aerobatic). The TEAM Airbike is much like a motorcycle of the air.


FIXED WING AIRCRAFT

The homebuilt Pietenpol Air Camper from 1928 is the granddaddy of homebuilt designs. Thousands have ben built and many are still being built today! The Bear 360 is a homebuilt hot-rod that features a radial engine. The tiny homebuilt Cri-Cri is billed as the world's smallest twin-engine airplane. It's fully aerobatic, too!
The Waiex is a simple, small two-seat airplane that can be built relatively inexpensively. The all-wood VP-1 Volksplane was designed to be as simple as possible. It's cute, too! This turbine Legend represents the high end of the homebuilding spectrum... it's very expensive, but very fast also.
The sleek Cirrus VK-30 homebuilt features a pusher engine and seats six. The VK-30 launched Cirrus Design, today's largest-selling manufacturer of single-engine aircraft. The Stinson A Trimotor is a classic airliner from of the late 1920's. The Zenith CH-701 homebuilt is a STOL (SHort Take-Off and Landing) design that can operate from a very small runway.
The Lancair is a very sleek and fast homebuilt. The Columbia production aircraft lineup is derived from the Lancair. The Skyboy is a popular light sport aircraft. The Epic is one of the largest available homebuilt designs.
When most people think of an "aircraft" they first think of a conventional airplane, which is known as "fixed wing" aircraft (as opposed to helicopters which are "rotary wing" aircraft, or blimps which don't have wings at all!) However, this category includes a wide variety of aircraft types. Wings may be mounted high, low, or in-between. There may be more than one wing, or the whole aircraft may be just a wing. There's a huge variety of configurations, so it's probably more useful to discuss the various aspect of configurations.

Number of Wings:

  • MONOPLANES
    The Davis DA-2A is a monoplane featuring a V-Tail.
    The modern aircraft with one set of wings (one right and one left) is called a monoplane. This is an efficient configuration, and almost all factory-produced aircraft today are of the monoplane configuration. Wings may be mounted high, low, or in-between, a choice which for light sport aircraft can sometimes be based more upon visibility than aerodynamic requirements. High wing planes are better for looking at the ground, and low-wing planes are usually better for watching what's around you in the air.

  • BIPLANES
    The DeHavilland DH.51 shows the classic biplane layout. The DeHavilland DH.82 Tiger Moth from the 1920s is a legendary training and sport aircraft that is much-coveted even today.
    This Waco biplane has a cabin for comfortable travel. The Beech Staggerwing is regarded by many as among the prettiest airplanes ever made.
    The Meyers Little Toot is a homebuilt bipe with a lot of character! The Hawker Hind represents the pinnacle of biplane fighter technology, but by the outbreak of World War 2 the biplane was being surpassed by monoplanes like this Hawker Hurricane.
    For the first thirty years of heavier-than-air flight, the biplane configuration ruled the skies. This configuration, with two sets of wings which are usually braced against each other with struts and wires, came about because the low-powered, heavy engines of the time and the lack of knowledge of structures and aerodynamic forces requires designs that provided large wing areas to provide lots of lift. Rather than build one huge wing (that would be vulnerable to bending from flight loads) it was much easier to cut the required wing area in half and use two smaller wings to achieve it. These wings could then be braced against each other with wires and struts, creating very strong airframes with little extra weight. However, all those wires and struts cause a lot of wind resistance (drag). Overcoming this drag eats up precious horsepower, as does having two wings and other associated factors. This in turn greatly reduces the speed obtainable from a biplane compared to a similar monoplane. However, the high lift of most biplanes allows them to turn faster. The Red Baron's famed Fokker Dr.I Triplane had three wings... though it was very slow, it could out-climb, out-turn, and out-loop all opponents. Though advances in aerodynamic understanding, materials, and engineering made the biplane obsolete by the 1930s, they are still enjoyed by enthusiasts. The Pitts Special, introduced in 1945, is still being produced today and is arguably the ultimate aerobatic aircraft, as the biplane's compact design makes it extremely nimble and able to perform extreme tumbling maneuvers. Many others like biplanes simply because of their association with the romantic old days of barnstorming. There are even biplane-only classes in air racing. While it's not the most efficient design, biplanes will always have a place in aviation.

Layout of Wing Surfaces:

  • CONVENTIONAL WING LAYOUT
    Bill Clapp's wood and fiberglass KR-2S can hit 200 mph, yet only cost $7,300 to build! This uses the traditional "normal" airplane layout.

    Most airplanes have the main lifting surfaces (wings) towards the front or middle of the aircraft, with the tail surfaces at the rear. Wings may be mounted above the fuselage on struts (parasol wing), at the top of the fuselage (high wing, a very common configuration), in the middle (mid-wing or shoulder-wing) or at the bottom (low-wing, another very common configuration). The roll control (rotation around the axis along the direction of flight, i.e. raising one wing and lowering the other) is produced by moveable sections along the outer rear edges of the wings called ailerons, controlled by moving the stick side-to-side or rotating the wheel (like a car's steering wheel). When one aileron moves up, the other moves down. There may also be a section along the rear edge of the wings which can be dropped down (the same on both sides) called the flaps. These are used to generate additional lift and drag to help reduce speeds for takeoff and landings, and to help control the rate of descent.

  • CANARDS
    The Rutan Long-Eze and it's predecessor the Vari-Eze pioneered moldless composite construction techniques and popularized the canard layout. The advanced XB-70 Valkyrie bomber was a canard that could hit three times the speed of sound.
    The word "canard" is French for "duck", though the resemblance between a duck and a canard aircraft is somewhat tenuous (unless you've been drinking way too much French wine). A canard aircraft has the horizontal stabilizer and elevator (the horizontal tail, or the canard) in front of the wing instead of behind it like most aircraft... many folks think of canards as "tail-first" aircraft. The Wright Flyer was a canard (and a biplane, too) and some of the most advanced aircraft in the air today use this configuration... Burt Rutan is famous for canard aircraft like the Vari-Viggen, Vari-Eze, Defiant, and Long-Eze homebuilts, the Beech Starship, and the Voyager which made the first nonstop round-the-world flight. Then came numerous other homebuilt canard designs such as the Velocity, E-Racer, Cozy, Titan Tornado, and others. The advanced Mach-3 XB-70 Valkyrie bomber was also a canard, as are Sweden's Viggen and Europe's Rafale fighter jets. Most canard aircraft are designed so that the forward wing stalls before the main wing, which has the effect of automatically lowering the nose and preventing the aircraft from stalling or spinning. Another advantage is that unlike most conventional-layout aircraft where the tail pushes down to balance the aircraft, the canard provides upward lift and thus doesn't reduce the total lifting (i.e. weight-carrying ability) of the aircraft. In some modern aircraft, including several current fighters, canard surfaces are used primarily to enhance maneuverability, sometimes in conjunction with conventional rear tail surfaces. The B-1B Lancer bomber has a normal tail, but utilizes small canards to smooth the ride during low-altitude, high-speed flight.

  • FLYING WINGS
    The Avro Vulcan bomber served as one of the UK's main nuclear deterrents for many years. The Arup S-2 was an unusual implementation of the flying wing design.
    The JD-2 Dyke Delta is a four-seat homebuilt flying wing. NASA's unmanned, solar-powered Helios research aircraft is a flying wing that's capable of flying higher than virtually any other aircraft.
    Barnaby Wainfan's FMX-4 Facetmobile is an unusual homebuilt flying wing design. The Northrop RB-49 bomber flew well, but the program was cancelled largely due to politics.
    Aerodynamically speaking, the fuselage is mostly there to carry the pilot, passengers, and cargo, and to hold the tail in the proper position relative to the wing. It contributes a significant amount of drag, but little lift, to the aircraft. Therefore, the smaller the fuselage, the more efficient the aircraft can be (this lets it go faster, fly higher, be less fuel-hungry, and/or carry a heavier payload). Taken to an extreme, designers can even do away with the fuselage and tail entirely, and place everything inside the wing. This is known as a flying wing. It's rarely seen, in large part because the efficiency gains often don't outweigh the loss of useful space and the unique design challenges of not having a tail, but the design is attractive in many ways and is accepted when it's strengths outweigh the negatives. In some cases, a fuselage area is blended with the wing, which arguably makes the aircraft not a "true" flying wing but still falls within the general concept. Despite the rarity of flying-wing designs, it is a well-proven concept that is "revived" in a seemingly cyclical pattern. The most famous examples are probably the modern B-2A Spirit stealth bomber and its ancestors, the Northrop XB-35 and XB-49 bombers of the 1940's, as well as the very successful British Avro Vulcan jet bomber. The revolutionary German Me-163 Komet rocket-powered flying wing interceptor from World War 2 was capable of very high speeds (it would have been more effective, had it not had a slightly bad habit of exploding without warning). The efficiency of the flying wing design has also lead some designers to use the layout for gliders (Germany's Horten brothers made a whole series of them) and even a few homebuilt designs such as the Dyke Delta and the unusual FXM-4 Facetmobile.

  • WING SHAPES - STRAIGHT, SWEPT, DELTA, AND SWING WINGS

    • Straight Wings:
      This Sonerai racer shows the common straight wing planform. This is the easiest layout to build.
      Straight wings are typical on most aircraft that don't need to fly near the speed of sound, as this layout is the easiest to build and has aerodynamic advantages for lower-speed flight. This isn't an absolute rule, as some supersonic aircraft such as the T-38 Talon and F-104 Starfighter use straight wings (albeit relatively small ones). The simplest wing to design, build, and repair is a straight wing with a constant chord (chord is the width from the leading to trailing edge). Many straight wings are also tapered, generally with the wingtip being narrower than the root (inboard edge).

    • Swept Wings:
      The legendary F-86 Sabre ruled the skies over Korea, and along with it's opponent, the very similar MiG-15, represented the first real-world implementation of Germany's extensive wartime research into swept wings for high-speed flight.
      As speed increases, the air over the aircraft begins to compress. As a fighter aircraft nears the speed of sound, the drag begins to increase dramatically. This effect can be delayed by sweeping the wings backwards at an angle. For this reason, most faster jets and even some propeller planes have rearward-swept wings. There have been a very few designs that have swept the wings forward, which can offer some advantages aerodynamically. The primary problem with forward-swept wings are mechanical... the oncoming airstream tends to bend these wings in the wrong direction, rather than move them back to level, though current composite technologies have made these designs far more practical to build nowadays. Most jet airliners use swept wings.

    • Swing Wings:
      The B-1B Lancer strategic bomber sweeps the wings back for cruising flight, but they move forward to reduce takeoff and landing speeds.
      One ingenious compromise used to take advantage of the higher lift available from straight wings while retaining the high-speed benefits of swept wings is the swing wing. In this arrangement, the wings are mounted on a pivot near the root (where the wing joins the fuselage) and the sweep is varied according to the flight position. This adds weight and complexity, but allows a greatly expanded flight envelope (set of operating conditions). Swing wings have been successfully used on several military aircraft such as the F-14 Tomcat, F-111 Aardvark, Panavia Tornado, and B-1B Lancer bomber.

    • Delta Wings:
      The Convair B-58 Hustler nuclear bomber of the 1950s used a delta wing. It was capable of Mach 2 performance.
      The delta wing design resembles a triangle, and may or may not be cut off on the tip. This design is efficient for high-speed flight and also can generate high lift for landing and maneuvering. It can also carry a great amount of fuel internally, which can be another advantage to using it. However, it is not as fuel efficient as other configurations for most flight regimes, so it tends to be used mostly on fast military aircraft such as the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-102 Delta Dart and F-106 Delta Dagger fighters and the famous SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. It was also used on jet bombers including the B-58 Hustler, XB-76 Valkyrie, and Avro Vulcan. The Concorde and Space Shuttle also use delta wings. It is common for a delta wing aircraft to have no tail surfaces, so delta wings are commonly seen on flying wing aircraft.

    • Elliptical Wings:
      The Supermarine Spitfire's elliptical wing not only gave it awesome performance, but made it an incredibly beautiful airplane.
      This is a variation of the straight wing where the top view of the wing will show that instead of straight leading and trailing edges, the wing has an elegant curve like an ellipse. The idea is that the width of the wing is (roughly) proportional to the amount of lift generated by that part of the wing, which reduces drag. The most famous example of this design philosophy is the legendary and beautiful Supermarine Spitfire fighter from World War 2.

Layouts of Tail Surfaces:

The tail surfaces of an aircraft provide stability, much like the fins on an arrow. The horizontal stabilizers provides stability in pitch (nose goes up or down) and a movable surface on the rear of it, called the elevator, provides pitch control when the pilot pushes or pulls the control stick or wheel (push to pitch down, pull to pitch up). The vertical stabilizer (sometimes called the fin) provides stability in yaw (where the nose swings left or right) and the movable rear portion of this surface is called the rudder, which is controlled by foot pedals. An airplane rudder works similarly to the rudder on a boat. The rudder controls are also used to steer the aircraft on the ground, and are coupled with the nosewheel or tailwheel steering if the plane has it (otherwise, steering is usually accomplished by a combination of aerodynamic force acting on the rudder if there is enough airspeed, with lower-speed control accomplished by differential application of the main wheel brakes... the brake controls are also usually foot-activated). On some aircraft, one or both tail surfaces are entirely moveable (an "all-flying tail surface") instead of having both a fixed and a movable portion, in which case the stabilizer/elevator is usually called a stabilator. The ubiquitous Piper Cherokee (and it's many derivatives) use stabilator control, as do most supersonic aircraft (for entirely different reasons!)

The tail surfaces may be the "normal" arrangement of a single vertical stabilizer and a single right and left horizontal surface, called a cruciform tail configuration. Less commonly seen, except on the famous Beech Bonanza and a few other designs, is the "V-tail" which combines the rudders and elevators into "ruddervators" mounted on two tail surfaces arranged in a V-shaped configuration (sometimes including a downward-pointing vertical stabilizer underneath). Some aircraft have two (or more) vertical tail surfaces mounted near the tips of the horizontal stabilizers roughly in an "H" shape, which is usually just called a "twin tail". Putting the horizontal tail at the top of the vertical stabilizer produces the "T-Tail". (See a trend in the names here?)

Some aircraft utilize two booms extending backwards, usually from the rear of the wings, which hold the tail on (which can be any configuration described above), with the fuselage forming a "pod" of sorts in the middle. This arrangement may allow for easier rear loading of a fuselage cargo area, it may simply provide for a lighter and stronger overall structure by combining engine nacelles with the rear fuselage, or it can permit an engine to be mounted on the centerline at the rear of the aircraft. This arrangement is called a "twin-boom" or "pod and boom" arrangement. Many aircraft have used this setup, including the P-38 Lightning and P-61 Black Widow fighters of WW2, the Cessna 337 Skymaster and it's military cousin the O-2 Duck, the OV-10 Bronco Forward Air Control plane, the C-82 Packet and C-119 Flying Boxcar transports, Burt Rutan's Voyager and Global Flyer record-breaking aircraft, Edgely Optica, and the modern Adams A500 and A700 executive aircraft.

The forward-wing, cruciform-tail configuration is by far the most commonly seen aircraft configuration, but it's certainly not the only one you'll see!

The Breezy homebuilt uses a conventional tail arrangement. Several models of the Beech Bonanza use a V-Tail. The tiny Cri-Cri uses a T-Tail. This one is powered by two jet engines originally designed for model airplanes!
The GA Monospar exhibits a twin tail. The Adam A700 uses a twin-boom design with a high-mounted horizontal tail, which frees room to mount the jet engines and keeps the tail clear of the exhaust plume.


ROTORCRAFT - HELICOPTERS, GYROCOPTERS, AUTOGYROS, AND GYROPLANES

An airplane wing needs to have air flowing over it to generate lift. This is fine, unless you don't have the room to accelerate to the required speed, or if you want to stay still over the ground. To solve this problem, rotorcraft (also called rotary wing aircraft) mount the wings onto a shaft and spin it. The spinning provides the airspeed the wing (rotor blades) need to generate lift, without requiring forward motion of the entire aircraft. The lift on the blades lifts up on the shaft and carry it and the aircraft which is (hopefully!) attached to it up into the air. One downside of all this is that rotorcraft are inherently slower than fixed-wing aircraft. This is because the rotor blades on one side will be moving in the opposite direction to the direction of flight. As the forward flight speed increases, the relative airspeed over the retreating rotor blades is decreased, with a corresponding loss of lift. At some point, the retreating blades will stall and the lift on that side of the helicopter will go away, causing the lift on the other side to roll the aircraft over uncontrollably. The blades on the side moving forward will eventually have problems as their total airspeed approaches or exceeds the speed of sound. This creates a lot of noise as small sonic booms are created by each blade (that's why Vietnam-era UH-1 Huey helicopters make their distinctive "whop-whop-whop" sound), and it also greatly increases the drag and decreases the lift on that rotor blade. Other problems are related to the fact it takes much more power to hover than fly forward (imagine how much power it would take to drive your car up a vertical wall) and the fact that controlling a spinning rotor with many gyroscopic forces at work involves a much more complicated set of linkages and control systems than the relatively simple airplane. Vibrations are destructive, but are a normal fact of life with rotorcraft. Generally, control of a rotorcraft's pitch, roll, and collective (the vertical translation providing straight up and down control) is done by manipulating the angle of the rotor blades in various ways, while yaw is controlled by the tail rotor in a manner similar to a plane's rudder.

Types of Rotorcraft:

  • HELICOPTERS
    The Kompress is a very lightweight helicopter. The large CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter uses counter-rotating rotors to counteract torque effects.
    A helicopter is a rotorcraft in which the engine directly powers the main rotor(s). Most helicopters have a tail rotor to counteract the torque of the main rotor and keep it from spinning, though a few designs use two main rotors spinning in opposite directions instead. The first helicopter designs flew in the 1920s, but it wasn't until after World War 2 that these amazing aircraft really came into their own. While not as fuel-efficient as airplanes, there are many times when there's simply no substitute for the ability of the helicopter to hover, fly very slowly, and land in tight spots. Despite their increased maintenance requirements, expense, and increased difficulty in piloting, helicopters are a vital part of aviation today. Helicopters range in size from tiny homebuilt machines that hardly weigh more than their pilot, up to gigantic transports that can haul dozens of troops or large vehicles.

  • GYROCOPTERS / AUTOGIROS / GYROPLANES / GYRO-GLIDERS
    The Gyroplane uses a pusher engine and conventional aerodynamic rudder. It needs no tailrotor since the unpowered main rotors don't generate torque. The Pitcairn PCA-2 Autogyro had some similarities to airplanes, but could fly much, much slower.
    Before the helicopter was perfected, the gyroplane was developed ("gyroplane" is the generic name, while "autogiro" and "gyrocopter" are actually trade names, but in reality the terms are used interchangeably.) These machines have rotors, but they are not powered by the engine. Rather, the airflow generated by the forward motion of the aircraft turns the rotors, which in turn generates lift. Gyroplanes have engines turning a conventional horizontal propeller like an airplane, which is only used for forward thrust. Since the main rotor is unpowered, there is no torque. Therefore they don't have tail rotors, but instead have vertical tails and rudders like an airplane. The gyroplane can't truly hover in still air, but many of them can fly so slowly that pointing the aircraft into a stiff breeze will result in no motion over the ground. Some gyros have a system to divert some engine power to a shaft or cable that pre-spins the rotor before takeoff, allowing for near-vertical or even vertical "jump" takeoffs. Gyros are far less complex, and hence far less expensive, than helicopters. They were produced commercially in the 1930s, and have been produced intermittently since including some very advanced research going on now by companies like CarterCopter. However, gyroplanes enjoy their greatest market among sport pilots.

    The gyro-glider is simply an unpowered version of the gyroplane that is towed behind a ground (or water) vehicle. These were popular in the 1960s and 1970s, but the idea is much older... the Germans towed foldable versions behind their submarines for observation purposes during World War 2.

  • TILT-ROTORS
    This mockup of a commercial tiltrotor shows the modern layout for such aircraft.
    When you combine a fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter into one aircraft, one result is the tilt-rotor. In theory, this aircraft offers the hovering capability of the helicopter combined with the high speed and fuel efficiency of an airplane. The trade-off is complexity and high costs. In this configuration, the engines are mounted on the ends of the wings in pods which rotate from horizontal to vertical. The engines each drive a large rotor which is part propeller and part rotor. For hovering flight, the engines are pointed upward and the aircraft is flown like a helicopter. At altitude, the engines and rotors rotate forward and act as conventional propellers, and the aircraft becomes a conventional airplane. The only tiltrotor in the world flying is the V-22 Osprey, which is now entering service with both the US Air Force and US Marines. The V-22 cannot land like an airplane with the rotors in the horizontal mode, as they're so large they'd hit the ground long before the wheels did!


POWERED PARACHUTES AND TRIKES

A powered parachute is somewhere between a go-kart, airboat, and parachute. They're great fun!
A powered paraglider provides perhaps the most minimal powered flight possible.
The Trike combines the simplicity of a hang glider wing with the speed and practicality of an aircraft.
Simply put, a powered parachute (PPC) is an aircraft that uses a ram-air parachute for it's wing. This is similar to modern square or elliptical sport parachutes, which are shaped so that the air entering openings in the front inflate it to create an airfoil cross-section that is in fact a wing. The powered parachute is somewhat like a flying go-kart, with wheels, one or two seats, and an engine driving a pusher propeller. The parachute wing is attached in such a way that it inflates, rises up, and lifts the PPC off the ground. Control is accomplished by pulling on steering risers to distort the parachute. A unique feature of PPCs is that they are constant-speed aircraft... most of them fly between 26 and 30 mph. Adding power causes the lift to increase and results in a climb, but the airspeed remains the same as in level flight. Reducing power or even stopping the engine completely just results in a descent, also at the same speed. PPCs are very safe, and are possibly the easiest aircraft to learn to fly, though they are limited in the amount of wind they can safely handle. The biggest danger is probably the possibility of rolling over on landing, and most PPC designs have a robust roll cage around the crew to prevent injuries.

The weight-shift-control aircraft is usually known as a "trike". This is a bit like a PPC, except instead of a parachute it uses a flexible wing closely related to that of a hang glider. The pilot controls the craft by moving a trapeze-like bar which is attached to the wing, which can swivel around the connection to the rest of the aircraft. Unlike PPCs, trikes can fly at a variety of speeds, and can fly much faster and handle more winds than the slow parachutes. They are closer in performance to airplanes, but require a bit more training to fly. However, they are still relatively lightweight and compact aircraft, and most can easily be put onto a small trailer. There are even designs that allow for operation off land, water, and snow. Trikes are rapidly gaining in popularity with Sport Pilots due to their relatively low costs and high fun factor.


SEAPLANES / FLOATPLANES

Virtually every type of aircraft has been adapted for operation off water. Sometimes, this is mostly just a matter of replacing wheels with floats. Some aircraft, mostly airplanes, are designed from the start as seaplanes, and instead of floats under the aircraft, the fuselage itself is designed with boat-like features. This configuration is called a flying boat, while a land plane adapted by installing floats is referred to as a floatplane. Most flying boat designs and many floatplanes also have retractable wheels to allow landings on either land or water (or even snow). This kind of dual-use aircraft is called an amphibian. Unfortunately, occasionally a pilot will try to land on a runway without putting the wheels down, which usually results in a lot of scraping noises, a little minor damage, and a lot of embarrassment. If a water landing is attempted with the wheels down, the likely result with most designs is a sudden stop, a big splash, and the plane ends up flipping over onto it's back... and that can be much more dangerous, expensive, and embarrassing. Generally, seaplanes and floatplanes have greater drag than a land plane, so they're often heavier and slower than the equivalent land plane. However, the Supermarine S6.B floatplane racer of the 1930s was the fastest aircraft in the world at the time, and was the direct predecessor to the famed Spitfire fighter. Seaplanes are very common in places like Alaska, where their versatility and great utility is of great benefit and more than offsets the loss in top speed or weight-carrying capacity.

The Aventura II is a flying-boat amphibian which is also a light sport aircraft. This Beech 18 floatplane uses external floats. Note also the supplementary vertical fin under the fuselage, commonly required in floatplanes to offset the additional area of the floats. This Sikorsky S-42 was operated by Pan Am in the mid 1930s from the Dinner Key seaplane base in Miami, FL. At the time, airline flying was elegant, classy service was the norm, and there was a real sense of adventure.
This homebuilt seaplane actually uses a jon boat for a fuselage. Yes, it did fly! This Air Cam uses amphibious floats.


AEROBATIC AIRCRAFT

Aerobatics are maneuvers that exceed the conditions found in normal flight (such as gentle climbs and descents, normal turns, and level flight). Aerobatic maneuvers are usually performed just for fun, but may also be done during flight training, for entertainment at an airshow, to test an aircraft, or by military fighter aircraft who are either trying to shoot down another aircraft or avoid being shot down (often both simultaneously). Aerobatic maneuvers evolved from simple loops, rolls, stalls and spins into some wild maneuvers today that are nearly impossible to describe with mere words. Aerobatic competitions are held worldwide and use a defined system of scoring by judges (who remain on the ground) and are performed under a strict set of safety guidelines. Aerobatic competition can be very competitive and getting into the upper levels requires great amounts of practice, skill, and the right aircraft. To become an airshow aerobatic pilot in the US, pilots must demonstrate their proficiency to established airshow pilots, who sign them off to fly with certain restrictions (such as minimum altitudes). As a pilot gains experience, he or she can be re-evaluated to lower the restrictions. The top-level performers (the "really famous ones") often have no restrictions beyond FAA rules and accepted practice within the industry. While some pilots actively seek to become airshow performers, most fliers who participate in acro do it just for fun, and aren't involved in competitions. While a little riskier than "normal" flying, in general, aerobatics (especially competition-style) is statistically not very dangerous, due to the strict safety practices that are followed. "Acro" pilots always wear parachutes ("just in case") and observe minimum altitudes, receive competent training, and follow other procedures to ensure safety, such as staying high enough to ensure that there's enough room for a safe recovery if a maneuver is botched. However, acro can be a very dangerous activity to anyone foolhardy enough to try to teach themselves! Fortunately, there are quite a few flight training schools and instructors who specialize in teaching aerobatics, and as a result, acro is no longer the "daredevil" activity it sometimes was in the early days of flight history. Many pilots take acro training not only for the "fun" aspects, but also to become better pilots. When learned from a competent instructor and when flown properly, aerobatics is an extremely rewarding and fun activity that carries only a slightly higher risk of accident than normal flight.

Assuming proper training and experience, a pilot might be able to take acceleration forces up to about 9g (9 times the normal force of gravity) before passing out. Many modern planes are designed to withstand 12g (12 times their own weight!) before the structure fails. However, most maneuvers, especially those done for recreation, don't exceed +4g or -3g because any more is just plain uncomfortable for most folks. (Positive g numbers indicates the force is pushing you down into the seat, while negative g numbers indicates the force is pushing you up out of your seat. Sitting in the plane still on the ground is +1g, hanging upside down in level flight is -1g. Negative g's are harder to take for most people... can you say "head rush"?) Aerobatic aircraft are flown to g limits lower than their designed breaking point, since a mistake might result in more g than intended... obviously, the pilot wants to leave a healthy margin for safety!

Aerobatic aircraft are specialized for high maneuverability, high strength, low weight, and usually, high power. This helps them perform a wide range of maneuvers, from gentle to wild. Older aerobatic airplanes had a lower power-to-weight ratio, so they had to get more airspeed before performing vertical maneuvers, while some modern aerobatic planes are so light and so powerful they can actually hover or even climb using the thrust of the propeller alone! Nimble biplanes like the legendary Pitts Special, Bucker Jungmann, and Steen Skybolt are commonly used for aerobatics. Other aerobatic planes are monoplanes, and the newest ones often utilize exotic composite materials like carbon fiber to get the most strength and lowest weight possible. Monoplanes used for acro include the Extra series, Sukhoi Su-26 and Su-31, the One Design, Citabrias and Decathlons, Piper Cubs, the Yak-55, the DeHavilland Chipmunk, and many others. Many ex-military airplanes (Warbirds) are used for aerobatics as well, from the antique PT-17 Stearman biplane trainers up through WW2 planes like the T-6 Texan and P-51 Mustang, and progressing on to more modern planes like fast military jets. In fact, a great many common aircraft such as some Cessnas and Pipers are capable of at least some aerobatic maneuvers, though they might not normally be approved by the FAA to do them (there is however a strengthened version of the ubiquitous Cessna C-150 called the Aerobat). Airshow performers, ever on the search for unique and impressive performance aircraft, sometimes undertake to recertify normally non-aerobatically certified aircraft with the FAA to allow their use in airshow performances... so you can sometimes see a normally "sedate" airplane like a Learjet 45, Beech 18, or Beech Bonanza performing aerobatic routines at airshows. There have even been aerobatic routines done with 1920s-era Ford Trimotor airliners! Aerobatics are also performed in sailplanes (where the engine's power is replaced by airspeed after a dive, after being towed to altitude by a powered aircraft as with a normal glider) and now, even helicopters are getting in on the act! One interesting trend is that the high-power, unusual maneuvers pioneered by specialized and wildly maneuverable radio-controlled aircraft are now being adapted to the full-scale aerobatics world, resulting in a constantly-increasing level of aircraft capability and increasingly mind-bending maneuvers.

Aerobatics are a fun and entertaining activity! Sean D. Tucker's Oracle Challenger is perhaps the most advanced aerobatic airshow aircraft today. Michael Goulian and his Extra is a familiar sight at airshows.
The PT-17 Stearman trainer trained thousands of flight students, and is a classic aerobatic airplane. Germany built the Bucker Jungmann specifically to compete in the aerobatics competition in the 1936 Berlin summer Olympics. It remains a legendary aerobatic aircraft. The Russian Yak-55 is an advanced aerobatic monoplane.
The homebuilt Steen Skybolt is a capable aerobatic biplane for two. The Christen Eagle was one of the first complete kit aircraft. Many aerobatic airplanes feature bright color schemes.
Randy Henderson's Texas T-Cart airshow airplane is a modified Taylorcraft. Many flight schools use the Citabria Decathlon for aerobatic training.


CLASSIC, VINTAGE, AND ANTIQUE AIRCRAFT

Many old airplanes have been lovingly restored and operate today. Many folks feel that the classic aircraft from earlier eras, such as 1920s biplanes, have a romance and style that can't be matched by modern aircraft. In fact, many current-production aircraft like the Cessna 172 and Beech Bonanza have been around for 50 years or more, with only incremental improvements in engines and equipment over the years. Old aircraft, like old cars, rarely depreciate in value, and particularly historic or rare aircraft can be valued into the millions, though many of the less-scarce classics are available for prices comparable to a classic automobile, and often have more interesting histories behind them. For all their appeal, older aircraft can present their owners with special problems as parts may be harder (or impossible) to find, yet the enjoyment of owning a beautiful classic aircraft more than makes up for it. It's not uncommon for a "basket case" project that's completely unrecognizable as an aircraft to be restored, re-created, and rebuilt (usually at great expense) by a dedicated owner.

The all-wood, two-seat DeHavilland DH.88 Comet long-distance racing plane is one of the most beautiful planes ever built. The homebuilt Pietenpol Air Camper, designed in 1928, was originally designed to use a Ford Model A engine. It's still one of the most popular homebuilt aircraft being built and flown today. The guppy-like Aeronca C-2 and C-3 "Airknockers" were popular trainers in the late 1920's and 1930's. Early models only had 40 horsepower, flying more like a kite than an airplane.
This original 1919 Polen Special is one of the oldest homebuilts still flying. The Dormoy Bathtub proves that form follows function. This is a replica, but the engine is an original Heath from the 1920's. The 1930's DC-3 Dakota airliner/transport is arguably the most influential aircraft of all time, continuing to serve throughout the world even today.
The beautiful gull-wing Stinson Reliant of the 1930's was a luxurious aircraft for its time. The late-20s saw the advent of the monoplane transport, like this very rare Stinson Detroiter. This beautiful plane is a Ryan STA.
The classic of classics, the Piper J-3 Cub, was first produced in 1927 and remains one of the most storied and desired airplanes even today, with numerous companies producing versions of it as plans, kits, and finished aircraft.


WARBIRDS AND MILITARY AIRCRAFT REPLICAS

Any civilian-operated aircraft which was once used by the military and kept flying by civilians is known as a "warbird". While most folks think of World War 2 fighter and bombers as warbirds, this also can include planes as diverse and seemingly un-military as Pipers and even Ercoupes. The "heavy iron" like WW2 bombers and fighters, while carrying the most "prestige" in the eyes of many, are generally (by most people's standards, at least) obscenely expensive to purchase and operate. The rarer or more famous types often have such a high value that it's actually commonplace to build an essentially brand-new airplane while using the original parts only for templates, and the only part that is verifiably original is the original dataplate. However, despite the financial burden of operating many of the high-performance warbirds, many folks get involved by volunteering their time and talents with a project or a museum... warbird fans are typically not only deeply committed to the aircraft itself but steeped in the history of the aircraft, the crews, and the events the planes played a part in. It takes a lot of patience, time, and dedication to keep a warbird operating. The motto of the warbird movement is simple: "Keep 'Em Flying".

WW2 "heavy iron" has been popular for decades. Unlike today when bureaucracy and post-9/11 paranoia makes it exceedingly difficult to obtain surplus military aircraft from the US government, shortly after WW2 ended, you could buy a surplus fighter, bomber, trainer, or transport aircraft... of a type still in active service at that time... for as little as a couple of hundred dollars, and they'd even be filled with gasoline which (due to rationing) was often worth more than the price paid for the plane! Today, that surplus P-51 Mustang (which may have been bought by someone for $250 just to get the gasoline in the tanks) is worth around two million dollars in flyable condition! Piston-powered combat planes of the WW2-Korea era such as P-38 Lightnings, P-47 Jugs, F4U Corsairs, Grumman Avengers, Supermarine Spitfires, Hawker Sea Furies, AD Skyraiders, and the like are also in great demand, with a very limited supply.

Warbirds also include many unarmed trainers, observation, and liaison planes (which were often in turn eventually converted into armed attack planes). By far the most common of the early era warbirds is the 1930s-era Stearman (or Boeing) PT-17 Kaydet (and it's close Naval cousin, the N2S), which provided primary flight training for tens of thousands of airmen right up until after WW2. They then formed the bulk of the nation's crop-dusting fleet after the war, and many survivors have been restored to hop rides, perform in airshows, and bring back the romance of the biplane era. The PT (Primary Trainer) series also includes the PT-19, PT-22, and PT-26 monoplanes, all of which can also be seen in some numbers today... usually in fairly bright color schemes. Another very common Allied trainer of WW2 was the T-6 Texan (the Navy called it the SNJ and the Brits called it the Harvard). The T-6 was an advanced trainer that was the last step before pilots were thrown into front-line combat in fighters. Both the T-6 and it's 1950's replacement, the T-28 Trojan, are seen in large numbers at airshows today. More modern observation warbirds include the Vietnam-era OV-10 Bronco and OV-1 Mohawk. Foreign trainer/liaison warbirds you may encounter include the DeHavilland Chipmunk (UK/Canada) and Tiger Moth (UK), Nanchang CJ-6 (China), Yak-55 (Soviet Union), Fieseler Fi-156 Storch (Germany/France), and various others.

Large warbirds are also seen, including a variety of bombers and transport aircraft. Allied militaries worldwide treasured the legendary Douglas DC-3 transport (aka the C-47, or R4D, or Dakota, or...) as well as later transports such as the DC-4 (C-54), DC-6, and Lockheed Constellation (C-121). World War 2 bombers always cause a stir... the B-25 Mitchell (of Doolittle Raid fame) is perhaps the most abundant, but the B-17 Flying Fortress is the most famous. B-26 Invaders are also out there. The B-24 Liberator was the most-produced bomber of the war, but only a few examples still fly. Even the massive B-29 Superfortress, which helped win Pacific war and which dropped the atomic bombs that ended the war, is represented by a flying example. Other large warbirds which you can still find in the air (at least somewhere in the world) include planes such as the Avro Lancaster bomber, the P2V Neptune, the S-2 Tracker, the British Canberra jet bomber, the C-119 Flying Boxcar, the C-123 Provider, the Junkers Ju-52/3m "Iron Annie" German trimotor, PBY Catalina and Grumman Albatross amphibians, and the C-7 Caribou. While nobody's likely to get a B-52 or B-36 bomber flying, there is a civilian Avro Vulcan B.2 bomber flying in the UK!

Another fast-growing (and fast-moving) segment of the warbird movement is jets, including both fighters and trainers. Popular warbird jets include the F-86 Sabre and it's nemesis the Russian MiG-15 and MiG-17, the MiG-21, the T-33 Shooting Star, the T-37 Tweet and it's attack variant the A-37, many former Soviet-bloc trainers like the elegant L-39 Albatross, and European designs like the Fouga Magister, Hawker Hunter, and the BAE Strikemaster. A few quite modern, very high performance supersonic jets like the F-4 Phantom II, English Electric Lightning, and even some Sukhoi Su-27 fighters have become privately in recent years, as well as A-4 Skyhawks and even the BAE Harrier "jump jet"! Very often, Cold War-era jets are comparative bargains for the owners, since many of them remained in active service in foreign countries until very recently and therefore haven't required massive rebuilding efforts, and parts are often in good supply. They are also often more plentiful, so the purchase prices are much lower (though jet engines aren't exactly known for their fuel efficiency!)

In the "mid range", there are many light aircraft-derived warbirds that are close cousins of general aviation aircraft. The T-34 Mentor trainer is very popular, and is essentially a tandem-seat militarized version of the popular Beech Bonanza (which has remained in continuous production since the late 1940s!) The L-19 Bird Dog and Cessna O-2 Duck Forward Air Control (FAC) planes share their heritage with other Cessna designs, but many of them have exciting combat histories. Other GA aircraft that also served with the military and which may be seen on the warbird circuit include the Cessna 310, Bell 47 helicopter, and Cessna 152.

On the low end of the price and performance scale are the "L birds" like the L-4, the military version of the Piper Cub. These "Grasshoppers" were extensively used by the military for observation, target spotting, medical evacuation, personnel transport, flight training, and even light attack duties, and many saw combat. However, they're essentially similar to their civilian counterparts in most respects, and were surplused by the hundreds after the Second World War. Therefore, some common types of L-birds are fairly reasonably priced and much more in line with the abilities and budget of most private and sport pilots, as well as fairly easy to maintain. Moreover, these fairly simple aircraft are generally far more practical and useful for typical fun-flying and moderate travelling duties than, say, a 400-mph fighter plane that guzzles 60 gallons of gas per hour!

Authentic World War One-era military aircraft are now around 100 years old. The aircraft and operating examples of their unique rotary engines are now scarcer than hen's teeth... and flying examples are even more rare. They do exist, however since they are rarely flown very far from home, you may have to travel to a flying museum to see this kind of airplane in action. Needless to say, real WWI aircraft are generally exceedingly valuable! However, the mystique and romance that surrounds the First World War's flying activities has provided the impetus behind the creation of many attractive replicas of these early aircraft. Some are built to original plans, but most such planes, at least under the skin, take advantage of modern construction techniques and materials and use more modern engines which are far more reliable and practical to maintain than the balky powerplants of the early days of flight. There are even very popular kits to re-create some of the more popular fighters, often in reduced scale... more than once, a dedicated group of builders has jointly re-created an entire squadron of WWI fighters! Commonly seen replica planes of this era include Nieuports, Sopwith Camels, Fokker Eindeckers, and the famed Fokker Triplane (of Red Baron fame).

While not truly "warbirds" in the pure sense, replicas of many other military planes are also available. They are usually built from plans, but sometimes available in kit form. Aside from the WWI types mentioned above (which are really just a step above ultralights in size and performance), also popular are WW2 fighters like the P-51 Mustang, F4U Corsair, and Supermarine Spitfire. Some replicas are the same size as the original, though the large size of many WW2 fighters (and the large engine, materials, and hangaring requirements that such a size leads to) has made smaller-scale versions quite popular. Some are virtually exact duplicates, some are almost "cartoonish" (such as the wood-and-fabric ultralight version of the P-51 that Lohele offers), but they always bring a smile to people's face! There have also been exacting replicas (or as their aficionados like to say, "reproductions") built to exactly match the original aircraft, including a P-51 built from scratch using the original factory plans and perhaps the most ambitious such project, a small production line for new-build copies of the Me-262 Swallow, the first jet fighter... these reproductions use modern jet engines, which should take care of one of the original plane's major failure points.

Many folks who either can't afford, can't find, or can't fly the real thing to own have been able to live out their warbird fantasies with a replica... overall, they're often a lot more practical than the real thing!

To many, the P-51 Mustang fighter of World War 2 is the ultimate airplane. The AD-5 Skyraider is the largest single-seat piston powered airplane ever to see combat, and gained a reputation as the toughest bird in the air. This World War 1 German Eindecker III is actually an ultralight replica.
The Beech 18 served in many roles in World War 2, including as a light transport, bombing trainer, and liaison aircraft. It's fairly practical to own too, as warbirds go. This Aeronca Defender is a legitimate warbird, but it's not too different than the civilian version. The Dawn Patrol built a whole bunch of Nieuport replicas simultaneously, and has a lot of fun re-creating the Great War!
The ultimate World War 2 warbird? This Me-262 replica is structurally similar to the original, except for the modern (very reliable) engines. The Cessna L-19 / O-1 Bird Dog served in Korea and Vietnam with the USAF, US Army, and US Marine Corps. They are very popular warbirds today. This rare FJ Fury is a navalized cousin of the F-86 Sabre built for the US Navy.
Heavy World War 2 bombers like this B-24 Liberator are extremely expensive to restore, maintain, and operate, but an irreplaceable part of our history. This P-51A is actually a homebuilt, constructed using factory blueprints! There are as many interesting T-6 Texan paint schemes as there are T-6's.
It's been said that there were only 3 aircraft types that WW2 observers cared about: Ours, Theirs, and Lysanders. The ultra-recognizable "Lizzie" had great short-field performance. Among the world's most expensive, complex, and unusual warbirds is Avro Vulcan XH558, which was Britain's front-line Cold War nuclear bomber. It has 4 engines similar to those of the Concorde... the fuel bill for one performance costs more than many whole airplanes! The World War 2 Dream Team: An F4U Corsair (US Navy), Supermarine Spitfire (RAF), F8F Bearcat (US Navy), and P-40 Warhawk (US Army Air Corps and American Volunteer Group)



 
Man must rise above the Earth - to the top of the atmosphere and beyond - for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.
(Socrates)
 

 
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