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Sir Isaac Newton first presented his three laws of motion
in the "Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis" in 1686. His first law
states that every object remains at rest or in uniform motion in a straight
line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force.
This is normally taken as the definition of inertia. The key point here
is that if there is no net force resulting from unbalanced
forces acting on an object (if all the external forces cancel each other out),
then the object maintains a constant velocity. If that velocity is zero,
then the object remains at rest. And if an additional external force is applied,
the velocity changes because of the force.
An aircraft in flight is a particularly good example of the first
law of motion. There are four major forces
acting on an aircraft; lift, weight, thrust, and drag. If we consider
the motion of an aircraft at a constant
altitude, we can neglect the lift and weight. A cruising
aircraft flies at a constant airspeed and the thrust
exactly balances the drag of the
aircraft. This is the first part sited in Newton's first law; there
is no net force on the airplane and it travels at a constant velocity
in a straight line.
Now if the pilot changes the thrust of the engine, the thrust and
drag are no longer in balance. If the thrust is increased, the
aircraft accelerates and the velocity increases. This is the
second part sited in Newton's first law; a net external force
changes the velocity of the object. The
of the aircraft
depends on the square of the
velocity. So the drag increases with
increased velocity. Eventually, the new drag equals the new
thrust level and at that point, the forces again balance out,
and the acceleration stops. The airplane continues to fly at a
new constant velocity that is higher than the initial velocity.
We are again back to the first part of the law with the aircraft
traveling at a constant velocity.
Remember, in this simple example, that we are only considering the motion
of the aircraft in a horizontal direction; we are neglecting any effects of the
thrust on weight or on lift. On real aircraft, increasing the throttle setting
increases the fuel usage and decreases the weight, and the increase in velocity
increases the lift as well as the drag. Each of these changes
affect the vertical motion of the aircraft, but to simplify our understanding
of Newton's laws, we are neglecting these effects in this example.
It's important to point out the role of engine thrust
in this example. Thrust is used to accelerate the aircraft, to
change its velocity, and thrust is used to balance the drag
when the aircraft is cruising at a constant velocity. We normally
think of only the first role - acceleration. For fighter planes high
thrust is desirable. But some aircraft, like jet airliners, spend
most of their existence in cruising flight balancing the drag. In
that role engine efficiency (low fuel usage) is desirable. Depending
on the mission of the aircraft, different types of
engines are designed to provide high thrust or high
Newton's Laws of Motion:
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