General Aviation Aircraft

Six historically significant airplanes are displayed below. General aviation airplanes have historically served the public’s needs for personal and business travel, as well as for sport and recreational aviation. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), later to be called the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), contributed to the design of post World War ll general aviation through airfoil design research, low-drag engine cowling research, and aerodynamic drag clean-up experiments. NASA’s applied research developments in fields such as natural laminar flow technology allowed general aviation airplanes to reduce drag and improve efficiency.

Today, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have partnered with the general aviation industry and universities to create a consortium called Advanced General Aviation Transport Experiments (AGATE). AGATE’s goals include improvements to general aviation from propeller to tail, taking advantage of emerging technologies in satellite navigation, flat panel displays, digital communications, microcomputers, and state-of-the-art integrated design and manufacturing. AGATE is working on technologies for aircraft, user training and the development of an infrastructure that will make general aviation an affordable and reliable mode of transportation. The program plans to provide the foundation for industry leadership in technologies for improved utility, safety, affordability, performance, and environmental compatibility in general aviation aircraft.

picture of the Lear on land

In 1970, William Lear designed the Learjet 35, which then became a synonym for the term “business jet.” It is a light, twin-turbofan powered business jet that is flown in more than 23 countries around the world. The Learjet 35 carries six passengers and cruises at 348 knots (400 mph) over a range of 1,288 km (800 miles). Current versions such as the Learjet 31 can cruise at altitudes of 15,458 m (51,000 feet) to avoid airline traffic and can carry up to eight passengers. Learjet used NASA’s transonic swept-wing research results in its design effort.

picture of the Starship in flight

Beechcraft received Federal Aviation Administration (FM) certification for its Starship in 1990. The Starship is a single-pilot, twin-turboprop business aircraft (twin 1,200 HP Pratt & Whitney engines). It can carry eight passengers at cruising speeds up to 330 knots (380 mph) over a range of 1,609 km (1,000 miles). Typical cruising altitude is 10,058 m (33,000 feet) with a maximum of 12,497 m (41,000 feet). Some of its unique design features include: a largely carbon-fiber, composite material airframe; pusher turboprops with propellers aft of the wing; a cabin section mounted far forward of the engines; and propellers to reduce cabin noise. The Starship features a canard, which serves the function of a conventional airplane’s horizontal tail, but is mounted in front of the wing. The airplane’s directional control is done through wingtip fins called tipsails. The electrically actuated foreplane sweeps from 30 degrees aft during cruise to 4 degrees forward with the flaps extended. As of mid-1994, approximately 50 Starships had been completed. NASA’s composite research in design and testing was used by Beech in the design of the Starship, particularly the test program results in structural damage tolerance.

picture of the Piper Cub

The Piper Aircraft Company was founded in 1937. In 1938 the company introduced the Piper Cub. The Cub is one of the world’s most recognized airplanes. Over 40,000 have been built. The 75 HP Cub was followed by the Super Cub, which was powered by a 115 HP engine. In addition to being a very popular recreational plane, the Cub has also performed duties with the U.S. military. Airfoil designs created by NACA were used for the wing.

picture of the linclair IV

The Lancair IV is a high-performance, four-place composite material kit (home-built) airplane. It can cruise at over 217 knots (250 mph) and is powered by a 300 HP engine. Lancair International has developed a pressurized version, a first in sports aviation, capable of cruising at over 261 knots (300 mph) and altitudes of 7,620 m (25,000 feet). The aircraft is powered by a turbo-charged 350 HP engine. The aircraft uses a modified version of NASA’s low-drag natural laminar flow airfoil.

picture of a Cessna aviation airplane

In 1948, Cessna designed the 170 as a low-cost, four-place, general aviation airplane powered by a 145 HP engine. NACA’s airfoil designs and wind tunnel test results were used to design the wing and tail. In 1956, this airplane evolved from a tailwheel design into its current tricycle-landing gear configuration. The typical 172 is powered by a 150 HP engine and cruises at 109 knots (125 mph). It has been one of the most produced general aviation aircraft, with over 37,000 built. Production was suspended in 1986, but is being revived by Cessna for a 1997 roll-out.

picture of the Glasair

The Glasair I kit (home-built) airplanes designed by Stoddar-Hamilton Air, Inc., set a high performance standard in sport aviation in the 1980s. It is a two-place, fiberglass composite material airplane with a cruise speed of over 174 knots (200 mph) with a 150 – 160 HP engine. The Glasair II and III have improved cockpit space and cruising speeds of over 217 knots (250 mph). The airplanes use a NASA-designed, General Aviation Whitcomb-Number Two wing airfoil.

Article courtesy of NASA Quest.