Online course in Science, Engineering & Maths

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.

ABC of Flight Mechanics: How Do Planes Fly?

  • 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

When would you like to start?

Most FutureLearn courses run multiple times. Every run of a course has a set start date but you can join it and work through it after it starts. Find out more

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 Poquillon

Eric Poquillon

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.