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The branch of applied mechanics which deals with the interaction of aerodynamic, inertial, and structural forces. It is important in the design of airplanes, helicopters, missiles, suspension bridges, power lines, tall chimneys, and even stop signs. Variations on the term aeroelasticity have been coined to denote additional significant interactions. Aerothermoelasticity is concerned with effects of aerodynamic heating on aeroelastic behavior in high-speed flight. Aeroservoelasticity deals with the interaction of automatic controls and aeroelastic response and stability. In the field of hydroelasticity, a liquid rather than air generates the fluid forces.
The primary concerns of aeroelasticity include flying qualities (that is, stability and control), flutter, and structural loads arising from maneuvers and atmospheric turbulence. Methods of aeroelastic analysis differ according to the time dependence of the inertial and aerodynamic forces that are involved. For the analysis of flying qualities and maneuvering loads wherein the aerodynamic loads vary relatively slowly, quasi-static methods are applicable, although autopilot interaction could require more general methods. The remaining problems are dynamic, and methods of analysis differ according to whether the time dependence is arbitrary (that is, transient or random) or simply oscillatory in the steady state.
The redistribution of airloads caused by structural deformation will change the lifting effectiveness on the aerodynamic surfaces from that of a rigid vehicle. The simultaneous analysis of the equilibrium and compatibility among the external airloads, the internal structural and inertial loads, and the total flow disturbance, including the disturbance resulting from structural deformation, leads to a determination of the equilibrium aeroelastic state. If the airloads tend to increase the total flow disturbance, the lift effectiveness is increased; if the airloads decrease the total flow disturbance, the effectiveness decreases.
The airloads induced by means of a control-surface deflection also induce an aeroelastic loading of the entire system. Equilibrium is determined as in the analysis of load redistribution. Again, the effectiveness will differ from that of a rigid system, and may increase or decrease depending on the relationship between the net external loading and the deformation.
A self-excited vibration is possible if a disturbance to an aeroelastic system gives rise to unsteady aerodynamic loads such that the ensuing motion can be sustained. At the flutter speed a critical phasing between the motion and the loading permits extraction of an amount of energy from the airstream equal to that dissipated by internal damping during each cycle and thereby sustains a neutrally stable periodic motion. At lower speeds any disturbance will be damped, while at higher speeds, or at least in a range of higher speeds, disturbances will be amplified.
Transient meteorological conditions such as wind shears, vertical drafts, mountain waves, and clear air or storm turbulence impose significant dynamic loads on aircraft. So does buffeting during flight at high angles of attack or at transonic speeds. The response of the aircraft determines the stresses in the structure and the comfort of the occupants. Aeroelastic behavior makes a condition of dynamic overstress possible; in many instances, the amplified stresses can be substantially higher than those that would occur if the structure were much stiffer. See Transonic flight