ABC of Flight Mechanics: How Do Planes Fly?

Discover how airplanes work and explore simple flight mechanics: from take off and landing, to the physics of flight.

9,838 enrolled on this course

DC3 in the sky (Randy Fath©)
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    4 hours

Discover how planes fly

How do planes take off? How do they fly? How do pilots maintain control of them? And how high do aeroplanes fly?

Get answer to all these questions and more with this course exploring the basics of flying and flight mechanics. You will learn how the laws of physics apply to airplanes and discover important concepts in aviation including: lift, drag and propulsion, and longitudinal stability. You will also learn how to calculate a climb gradient or take-off distances.

You will leave the course with a better understanding of how planes work, and the basics of flights mechanics.

What topics will you cover?

The course goes through the following topics:

  • General description of an airplane
  • Atmosphere physics and Newton’s laws applied to the airplane
  • Lift, stall and ceiling
  • Drag and propulsion forces
  • Longitudinal stability

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Name the parameters and concepts used in flight mechanics (e.g., angle of attack, flight path angle, trim, total height)
  • Describe the standard atmosphere and explain the effect of altitude on the flight characteristics of an airplane
  • Describe the forces applying on an airplane at equilibrium or while maneuvering, explain how it flies and the origin of its flight envelope limits
  • Roughly size the airfoils of an airplane and the power of its engine

Who is the course for?

This course is for anybody interested in learning more about how aeroplanes work, the physics of flying or flight mechanics. It will be of particular interest to undergraduate students in aerospace engineering, trainee as well as senior pilots, journalists, and professionals in the aviation sector.

Who will you learn with?

Eric is a lead flight test engineer, currently working as a flight dynamics professor at ISAE SUPAERO, and has conducted certification flight tests on various types of civil and military airplanes.

Who developed the course?


ISAE-SUPAERO, world leader in aerospace engineering higher education.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

Want to know more about learning on FutureLearn? Using FutureLearn

Learner reviews

Learner reviews cannot be loaded due to your cookie settings. Please and refresh the page to view this content.

Do you know someone who'd love this course? Tell them about it...