Copyright © A. Filippone (2007). All Rights Reserved.


Flight mechanics is a subject dealing with the vehicle performance, its stability and control. Performance is defined by a large set of parameters and flight envelope curves. Stability and control deal with the vehicle’s response to static and dynamic changes of attitude. Books on this subject either focus on the first aspect or the second.

The art and science of flying an airplane owes much to stability and control. Sturdy structures and powerful power plants are simply not enough. Badly located centers of gravity (CG) may bring airplanes down.

When this feature [stability and control] has been worked out, the age of flying machines will have arrived, for all other difficulties are of minor importance.

[The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright, Vol I, McGrawHill, 1953]

This course deals mostly with performances of the fixed-wing aircraft in the atmosphere, but some stability issues will be treated as well. The second part of the course deals with orbital flight (satellites and other trans-atmospheric vehicles).

Course Unit

  • Level: 1
  • Credit rating: 10
  • Pre-requisites: None
  • Teaching Arrangements: 22 hours lectures, 6 hours tutorials, 1 laboratory
  • Degrees: Aerospace Engineering (BEng, MEng)

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module, students should be able to:
  • Understand the role of the primary aircraft components and systems
  • Understand basic aerodynamic and atmospheric flight mechanics principles
  • Be able to calculate the level flight performance of a range of aircraft types
  • Be able to assess performance in climbing and turning flight
  • Be able to calculate simple satellite orbits
  • Be able to run a flight simulator
  • Calculate the level and gliding and climbing flight of powered aircraft
  • Utilise the required terminology to describe the basic components of a rocket and satellite
  • Understand the physical principles governing a rocket, subsequently derive the Rocket Equation
  • Qualitatively and quantitatively describe the possible orbits a satellite can have about the Earth and to calculate how to transfer a satellite from one orbit to another.

Course Outline

Part I (with Dr A. Filippone)
  • Introduction to Atmospheric Flight Mechanics
  • The International Standard Atmosphere
  • Airplane components, systems and subsystems (VSTOL, military vehicles, flight controls, engine installations, landing gear)
  • Basics of Aerodynamics (reference systems, forces and moments on aircraft, airfoils, wing characteristics, lift and drag)
  • Aeronautic Flight Envelopes (stalling speeds, service ceiling, maximum speed, true air speed, equivalent air speed, calibrated air speed)
  • Level flight, Gliding and Climbing
  • Aerospace Propulsion Systems (gas turbines, turboprops and other powerplants)
  • Measurement of Flight Performances and Navigation Aids (air speed, altitude, temperature; air data computers, gyroscopes)
  • Learning from Engineering Disasters
    • Crashes created by landing gear failure
    • Wind screen failure
    • Space Shuttle
Part II (with Dr. A. Revell)
  • Introduction to satellite orbit theory and rockets
  • Rockets: terminology, basic components and launch profile of a rocket; case studies: Space Shuttle and the Ariane 5 rocket
  • current technological challenges and possible future technology; derivation of Rocket Equation with and without external forces; single stage and multistage rockets; specific impulse; escape velocity.
  • Satellites: terminology, basic components, orbits
  • Case studies
    • telecommunication, military and science satellites
    • Keplerian orbits and their orbital parameters
    • Hohmann transfer analysis.

Course Work

One homework will be assigned 4 weeks into the course (week 4). Students are required to solve problems and report the solution within the time allotted.

Reference Literature

  • Eshelby, ME. Aircraft Performance – Theory and Practice, Arnold Publ, London, 2000.
  • Philpott, B. Aircraft Flight, Longman Scientific, 1999.
  • Chobotov VA (editor). Orbital Mechanics, Washington, DC, AIAA education series, 1991.
  • Additional Literature for the enthusiasts


Handouts will be distributed during the lectures. None of the lecture notes will be made available on the internet. No tutorial sheets will be available. Students are required to attend the tutorials and work out the problems assigned.


  • 2 hour closed-books exam at end of semester, 70 %
  • Course work, laboratory work and set problems, 15 %
  • Mid Term Quiz, 15 %


  • Date and place of the exam is set by the UG office during the semester.
  • Attending lectures is strongly recommended and will be strictly monitored.
  • Class attendance will reflect upon your final grade.

Course Work Policy

  • All laboratory and course work is to be submitted within 2 weeks from the date of the experiment or assignement
  • Course work submitted after deadline will not be marked.
  • Extension of the deadline can be granted, but only on a case-by-case basis
  • Reports cannot be submitted via email or fax

How Much Should you Study ?

For every hour of lecture you are expected to
  • have two hours of study, or
  • one hour of tutorial and one hour of study

NB: You are encouraged to solve standard problems, for example past examination papers, that are available from the undergraduate offices.

Seeking Help

  • The instructor will be available to answer students questions after each lecture or tutorial.
  • The instructor is available for questions in his office on Mondays and Thursdays at 17:00-18:00, or via e-mail at any time.

Rules of Conduct in the Class Room

  • Mobile telephones are to be switched off at all times.
  • Students are expected to be punctual and lectures to start on time.
  • The instructor expects silence from the students. Background noise will not be tolerated.
  • Horseplay and willful misconduct have no place in the class room.
  • No Smoking, No Drinking, No Eating.

Ethical Standards

Ethical standards are needed to avoid cases of plagiarism and cheating. These include (but are not limited to): attempts to submit laboratory reports and course work without attending experiments/lectures; submitting the work done by another person; failure to give credit for ideas; copying from books; photocopying books and publications covered by Copyright. Assisting other persons to cheat is also considered an offense, and may be subject to disciplinary procedures. Acts of plagiarism are reported to the undergraduate office and to the examiners. Please refer to the students handbook for further details.

Dr A. Filippone
The University of Manchester
School of Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace and Civil Eng.
George Begg Building
Office C-030
Manchester M60 1QD
United Kingdom

Phone (+44) 161- 306 3702 (direct)
Fax (+44) 161- 306 3723

Copyright © A. Filippone (2007). All Rights Reserved.