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Home > Blog > Light Aircraft Aerodynamics

Light Aircraft Aerodynamics: Exploring the Forces of Flight

Posted 09 May 2024

Light Aircraft Aerodynamics

In this guide, we will explore the aerodynamics of light aircraft and dive deep into the forces of flight that make aviation possible.

Aviation is a testament to human ingenuity and shows how much we can achieve when collective research and insight are put into a field.

Before the advent of aviation, traversing the globe was a difficult and tedious task that also involved quite a lot of risk. However, thanks to engineers, scientists, researchers, and a few visionaries, humanity was able to harness the power of flight to not just bring the world closer, but to also bring about a technological revolution that redefined the world.

Today, aviation has cemented itself as an integral part of everyday life since it powers not just the transport of people but goods and services too.

In this guide, we will explore the aerodynamics of light aircraft and dive deep into the forces of flight that make aviation possible.


Light aircraft are categorised as small aircraft with a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of about 12,500 pounds (5,670 kilograms) or less. There are three key characteristics of light aircraft:

  • Size
  • Performance
  • Weight
  • Size

Light aircraft are considerably smaller than commercial aircraft with relatively fewer complexities. Instead, these aircraft are designed to be a miniaturised version of larger aircraft; therefore, they have a smaller cabin and a more compact fuselage.

There are two types of light aircraft designs: fixed-wing and flex-wing aircraft.

Fixed wings have a small cabin that can seat 2-6 people with some cargo. The smaller size of these aircraft makes them very aerodynamic and nimble in the skies and thanks to their smaller engine, they can achieve impressive fuel efficiency as well.

Flex-wing aircraft are even smaller! These aircraft boast a simpler design in the form factor of a trike. Unlike fixed-wing aircraft, the wings of flex-wings are made from fabric, which allows them to “flex” in the air giving them a unique flying experience.


Another defining factor for these aircraft is their performance. Due to a smaller and less powerful engine, light aircraft don’t quite reach the same speeds you’d find in larger aircraft, however, they can still be quite zippy making them ideal for aerobatics.

These aircraft can reach a top speed of 120-220 knots. Light aircraft are excellent for learning how to fly and provide a very responsive feel to pilots. Pilots can also perform various aerobatics using light aircraft and regularly use aerodynamically superior aircraft to learn complex manoeuvres.


As you can surmise from the above points, light aircraft get their name from being considerably lighter than commercial airliners. These aircraft weigh around 1600 to 3000 kg, which makes them about 100 times less heavy than larger aircraft.  

Flex-wings weigh even less!

Flex-wing aircraft weigh around 450 to 600 kg depending on the size, but you can also find some heavier flex-wing models depending on their modifications.


A key factor in how aeroplanes fly lies in the Bernoulli principle. Based on the famous Swiss mathematician and physicist Daniel Bernoulli, this principle, although based on hydrodynamics, outlines the same principles that also govern flight.

Aerodynamics is a branch of mechanics that highlights the relationship between air (or gasses) and bodies while in motion.

Bernoulli discovered that fast-moving air created a pressure difference. For example, if the air was moving above a surface, then there would be a pressure drop correlated to the flow of air travelling through it.

Here’s another quick and easy experiment to help you understand how this force works.

Take a small ribbon-like piece of paper and hold it so that it limps away from you. Now blow over the air over it! Now notice that even when you are blowing ABOVE the paper, the paper rises from below.

When you blow air over the paper, the air travels at a faster speed above the paper than the air below it which is relatively stationary. This difference creates a pressure drop above. Air at rest has a higher pressure which is why the air pressure at the bottom “pushes” up and lifts the paper!

Now scale this experiment to the size of an airplane and you will get the same results.

Bernoulli’s principle is just part of the answer, though. The real magic lies in the design of the wings! This is where aerodynamics comes in.

Here’s another experiment to help you understand the importance of aerodynamics. For this experiment, you will need a moving car or a very windy area.

During high wind, when you open your hand and face your palm toward the air you will notice that the wind pushes back on your hand as it lands around your palm. This happens due to the physical “push” of air molecules that crash and deflect off your hand while you are facing the wind.

When you turn your hand sideways you will immediately notice both stability and a lack of push. This is because instead of the wind crashing onto a larger surface area (your palm) the wind cuts through both sides of your hand and passes through smoothly.

This is a very crude foundation for aerodynamics. When the palm is facing against the wind, your hand puts up a fight and provides more resistance, but when you turn your hand sideways, your hand becomes aerodynamic and offers less resistance.

This is exactly why the wings of an aircraft are designed to be like blades with subtle moving mechanical parts that can contort and manipulate the flow of wind to make the aircraft manoeuvre while in the air.


Here is a year-by-year history of light aircraft in England and how the field of aerodynamics evolved to build the planes that power the world today.

1903: First Flight

After the successful flight by the Wright brothers, many private engineers began to develop better and more efficient aircraft designs based on the Wright Flyer but unfortunately, they were limited by the number of resources to bring their ideas to life.

That is until the First World War happened.

The military took quite a lot of interest in aviation and provided considerable funding to push aviation technology forward. After the war, we were left with huge stockpiles of damaged or decommissioned aircraft.

These components were cheap and allowed the aviation community to engineer light aircraft and give birth to the public aviation community in England that we see today. These private planes were sought-after by enthusiasts and led to the establishment of several early aero clubs in the UK.

1910: Flight Clubs

Even though the interest in aviation was in its adolescence, it still sparked the birth of the first-ever aero club called the Royal Aero Club.

Founded in 1910, this club played a pivotal role in building the aviation industry and culture in England. Even more importantly, this interest in aviation in the public also led to people taking up sciences and gave rise to next-generation engineers who would later experiment and perfect aircraft designs using advanced aerodynamics.

The 1920s: The Birth of the Aviation Industry in England

It became apparent that for the industry to survive, England needed its own aircraft companies that could build sustainable and high-quality aircraft. Private investors began funding the aviation industry which introduced many aircraft companies, the most important one being De Havilland.

Founded by Geoffery de Havilland, the Havilland Aircraft Company (HAC) brought about a revolution in the aviation industry in the UK by investing heavily in research and development for aerodynamics and advanced flight designs.

De Havilland was known for introducing pioneering aircraft that set the standard for modern aviation. Its string of aircraft design successes includes the DH.60 Moth, the Mosquito, and a fleet of other successful aircraft.

The 1940s: Post-War Progress

After World War II, English engineers and aviators continued working on newer and better designs using advanced material sciences and aerodynamics that would help build not just lighter but highly efficient aircraft.

The light aircraft industry had grown to the point that it required a separate governing body to oversee all aviation activities. This is when the British Light Aircraft Association was formed for the interests of light aircraft pilots and owners.

Modern Day Aviation

With several design iterations and better aircraft, we eventually reached a point that allowed for commercial aviation and much larger aeroplanes. However, the roots of aviation in England are and will always be tied to light aircraft!

Today, the UK is full of aviation clubs, organisations, schools, and companies that provide a range of services including light aircraft flight training. The hobbyist culture continues to thrive in aviation and with public interest at its peak there is no better time than now to get enrolled at a flight school.


Here are all the pioneering light aircraft companies and designs that were a direct result of advanced aerodynamics and clever engineering:

Zenith CH 750 Cruzer

Zenith is in Mexico, Missouri and the company is known for its affordable light aircraft designs, which include the CH 750 Cruzer – but this isn’t an ordinary aircraft!

Zenith can be considered as the new kid on the block. However, the company has been able to completely shake up the aviation industry by manufacturing incredibly aerodynamic planes that are sold in kits.

These kits are basically aircraft parts that can be assembled at any location to build the aircraft with minimum requirements. So, instead of a fully built plane, the company sends out several large packages with instructions on how to assemble the plane at your residence.

It's essentially a DIY method for building planes and the idea has been well-received in the aviation community. Not only can you enjoy flying but you also get to feel a sense of achievement and ownership by having a direct influence in building the aircraft.

Cirrus SR22

Known for producing both jet-powered aircraft and single-piston planes, Cirrus is one of the global leaders in light aircraft manufacturing.

Cirrus started in 1984 and has since pioneered aircraft design and spearheaded aviation research and development. The company is known for developing the Cirrus SR22 and its Vision Jet.

The company plays a major role in pushing research and development in aviation. This has allowed Cirrus to develop the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System, which is designed to deploy in emergencies, but instead of parachuting just the pilot, the system works to save the plane too!

Diamond DA 62

This Austrian manufacturer produces everything from light aircraft to high-performance planes that are designed to break records. Founded in 1981, Diamond Aircraft is located in Winer Neustadt, Austria.

Diamond Aircraft is at the forefront of producing safe, reliable, and high-quality light aircraft. They are also known for their focus on using modern technology and opting for advanced materials to build their aircraft.

Their most popular aircraft include the iconic Diamond DA20, the Diamond DA40, and the Diamond DA62.

Piper PA-28, Piper Archer

Piper Aircraft is an American manufacturer that produces a wide range of aircraft, including bespoke light aircraft that are designed for trainers and high-performance enthusiasts.

Founded in 1925, the company has been a cornerstone in aviation and is behind some of the most famous aircraft designs in the world.

The company is known for producing the iconic Piper Archer and Piper Arrow, two highly efficient aircraft that pushed aviation forward using incredibly aerodynamic designs.

Cessna 150, 182

The Cessna Aircraft Company is another American-based aviation manufacturer that is based in Kansas. The company was founded in 1927 by aviation pioneer Clyde Cessna.

The company started by manufacturing a variety of light aircraft powered using a proprietary single-piston engine that provided high performance and fuel efficiency.

Cessna cemented itself as one of the biggest players in aviation with the introduction of the Cessna 172 Skyhawk and the Cessna 182 Skylane.

Robin 2160

Robin Aircraft is a French manufacturer that is known for producing high-quality, efficient, and aerodynamic light aircraft.

The company focuses on building aerodynamic light aircraft and even produces aircraft that are suitable for both aerobatics and general flying. Aerodynamics is pivotal in aerobatics because an inefficient design can lead to aircraft stress and can also negatively impact performance.  

Robin aircraft are well-known for their Robin 2160 which is an excellent aircraft to train on. In fact, it is one of the go-to aerodynamically superior light aircraft for pilots who want to master various aerobatic moves for air shows and events.


Sherburn Aero Club, which has been operational since 1964, is the ideal place for most of your training and flying needs. It is one of the largest flying clubs in the North of England and also one of the largest in the country.

For those who wish to experience the thrill of a flight for fun or to help fuel their aviation dreams, Sherburn offers experience flights for the newbie, as well as the veteran in various types of light aircraft.

The flight experience option is also available for people who wish to take to the skies for special occasions, even if they aren’t into aviation in the long run.

If you wish to begin your career in aviation or wish to take to the skies as a hobby, Sherburn’s flight training school offers private and commercial licences, along with pilot medicals to ensure a smooth journey going forward.

With a large fleet of new aircraft and an airfield refurbishment with new runways, hangars, and an extended clubhouse, we cater to brand-new flyers who have just started their journey to the skies, as well as seasoned flyers who have been operating aircraft for decades.

Sherburn offers a dedicated day-long Flight Radiotelephony Operator’s Licence (FRTOL) course for those wishing to get the certification, running the first Sunday of every month.

In addition to that, if you are looking for a hangarage for your own aircraft, need servicing or repairs, want to buy a new aircraft or aviation equipment, or are just looking to enjoy and watch the aircraft, Sherburn Aero Club is the place to be.

Call us at 01977 682 674​​​, email us at flightdesk@sherburnaeroclub.com, or message us via our online contact form for more information on light aircraft, training requirements, licencing procedures, as well as experience flights and pilot training at Sherburn.

Photo by Trac Vu on Unsplash



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