What Is Thrust?

No matter which airplane you operate, all rely on the power of thrust to travel in the air. Thrust functions to push the plane forward and it is generated by the engine(s). Although the term thrust may be familiar, this blog will explain what exactly this force is and how it works to make air travel possible.

There are multiple invisible forces that act on aircraft during flight, including gravity, friction, air resistance, and more. It is easy to forget these forces play such a critical role in day to day operations because they cannot be seen, and we are rarely aware of their presence. However, engineers understanding the physics behind these forces is what makes flight possible today. In retrospect, thrust is observed through Newton’s third law of motion, that of which states every action causes an equal and opposite reaction. When an airplane’s engines are activated, they create action in one of two ways. Propellor engines create action through a spinning turbine blade, whereas jet engines create action with a combustion-powered propellor. In turn, the equal and opposite response to these actions create forward momentum.

Thrust functions to propel all aircraft forward, yet some aircraft also rely on reverse thrust, or thrust reversal. As implied by the name, reverse thrust propels the airplane backwards and only some engines are capable of this action. Rather than push air behind the plane, engines divert thrust in the opposite direction by pushing air forward, in turn pushing the plane backward in the opposite direction.

Pilots use thrust throughout flight to keep the plane moving forward, but they only selectively use reverse thrust during certain applications during on-ground operations. An example of a time a pilot would use reverse thrust is during landing. If a plane is approaching the runway at too high of a speed, the pilot might switch the engines to divert air forward, slowing the plane by increasing the force acting against it. This will pull the plane backwards, not necessarily to the point of causing backward flight, but enough to cancel out some of the forward motion of the vehicle. This slows the aircraft down to a safer speed for landing.

In conclusion, thrust is a vital aspect of air travel used to keep planes moving throughout flight. While thrust is a critical force in air travel, it does not work alone, and many other invisible forces work to make flight possible like lift. The many invisible forces acting across the different parts of a plane work in harmony to create the smooth flights we have grown accustomed to today.

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