Aircraft Systems: Flaps

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve talked specifically about your aircraft so let’s focus again this week on aircraft systems. Today, we’ll review flaps. This post has been excerpted from the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.

Flaps are the most common high-lift devices used on aircraft. These surfaces, which are attached to the trailing edge of the wing, increase both lift and induced drag for any given AOA. Flaps allow a compromise between high cruising speed and low landing speed, because they may be extended when needed, and retracted into the wing’s structure when not needed. There are four common types of flaps: plain, split, slotted, and Fowler flaps.

Five common types of flaps.

Five common types of flaps.

The plain flap is the simplest of the four types. It increases the airfoil camber, resulting in a significant increase in the coefficient of lift (CL) at a given AOA. At the same time, it greatly increases drag and moves the center of pressure (CP) aft on the airfoil, resulting in a nose-down pitching moment.

The split flap is deflected from the lower surface of the airfoil and produces a slightly greater increase in lift than the plain flap. More drag is created because of the turbulent air pattern produced behind the airfoil. When fully extended, both plain and split flaps produce high drag with little additional lift.

The most popular flap on aircraft today is the slotted flap. Variations of this design are used for small aircraft, as well as for large ones. Slotted flaps increase the lift coefficient significantly more than plain or split flaps. On small aircraft, the hinge is located below the lower surface of the flap, and when the flap is lowered, a duct forms between the flap well in the wing and the leading edge of the fl ap. When the slotted flap is lowered, high energy air from the lower surface is ducted to the flap’s upper surface. The high energy air from the slot accelerates the upper surface boundary layer and delays airflow separation, providing a higher CL. Thus, the slotted flap produces much greater increases in maximum coefficient of lift (CL-MAX) than the plain or split flap. While there are many types of slotted flaps, large aircraft often have double- and even triple-slotted flaps. These allow the maximum increase in drag without the airflow over the flaps separating and destroying the lift they produce.

Fowler flaps are a type of slotted flap. This flap design not only changes the camber of the wing, it also increases the wing area. Instead of rotating down on a hinge, it slides backwards on tracks. In the first portion of its extension, it increases the drag very little, but increases the lift a great deal as it increases both the area and camber. As the extension continues, the flap deflects downward. During the last portion of its travel, the flap increases the drag with little additional increase in lift.

Our CFI will return with more flight training insight’s on Thursday!

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