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What are the Different Types of Aircraft?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 23, 2024
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An aircraft is a vessel designed to move through the air. An airplane is a popular example of this type of vessel but there are many others. Helicopters, airships, and hot air balloons are also examples of different types of aircraft.

An airplane may be one of the most recognizable types of aircraft. These vessels have fixed wings and propellers. Their body styles can greatly vary as there are many types and sizes of airplanes used for numerous reasons. These include seaplanes and jets.

Most airplanes require a runway for take off and landing. Seaplanes are an exception. These flying vessels can take off and land on water. One type, known as a floatplane, has floating structures extending from the bottom of the plane’s body to prevent it from touching the water. Another type, known as a flying boat, tends to have floating devices under the wings because part of the body rests in the water.

People often mistakenly believe that airplanes and jets are separate types of aircraft. A jet is an airplane but is set apart by the fact that it has jet engines. These engines require different fuel than the engines of many other types of airplanes. Jets tend to be preferable aircraft when flying at fast speeds and high altitudes over long distances.

Gliders are small winged aircraft designed similar to airplanes but with notable differences. The wings of a glider tend to be longer and slimmer than those of an airplane. The cockpit is typically so small that it requires the pilot to be in a reclined position. There may be room for an additional person but it is not likely that more than two people will fit into this type of vessel.

A glider is generally used for recreational or sporting purposes. People use it for gliding or sky sailing. Some of these vessels have engines but others do not. The use of an engine is often to prolong the flying time.

A helicopter is an aircraft whose flight is made possible by rotors on top of the vessel. Unlike a fixed wing vessel, a helicopter does not require a runway or much space to take off and land. This is because it has the ability to move vertically. Another advantage of helicopters is they can hover. One disadvantage, however, is this type of aircraft is generally not suitable for long distances.

An airship is a vessel that is lighter than air. A zeppelin, for example, is an airship whose shape is retained by a rigid structure. A blimp is an airship whose shape is dependent on the inflation gases. These vessels are generally made airborne when they are inflated with gas. Their movements are usually controlled by engines and rudders.

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Discussion Comments
By anon978205 — On Nov 15, 2014

Can we safely say the two main types of aircraft categories are fixed wing aircraft and roto-craft?

By Languid — On May 24, 2013

@roxytalks, claire: Agreed about a powered parachute; that could correctly be called an aircraft, as could a hang glider. But a normal parachute is not an aircraft. It is a device designed to control or cushion a fall through the air. It does not in and of itself "fly".

The term "aircraft" applies to any device used for transport through the medium of air. However, as a general term, it is most often incorrectly used to describe such as a passenger 'plane'. The correct term is, in fact, aeroplane, aero being from ancient Greek 'ero' or air, and plane, also from ancient Greek derived from 'wandering,' hence, 'traveling on air'. This requires a particular shape to the 'wing' or 'aerofoil' also referred to in American English as 'airfoil', which, if you think about is actually a misnomer as the device is not intended to 'foil the air' but to use the air as a lifting device.

The design of an aerofoil is such that where the air meets the leading edge and is split, the air flowing over the top has to travel further than the air which flows underneath. This creates 'lift' because the air traveling over the top is therefore thinner (being the same quantity as that traveling under) because it has to travel further to reach the same destination at the rear of the aerofoil section. Power in one form or another is required to force the aerofoil through the air, but the lift is created by the shape, not the power. Thus a jet airliner is an aircraft or airplane, but a balloon is only an aircraft.

And roxy, it is not silly to have read the article and revised your notion. That is how we all learn. Silly would be to maintain a fixed notion regardless of the information around you. That's the sort of thing idiots do.

By claire24 — On Feb 02, 2011

@roxytalks -- There is actually a type of parachute that has a motor and wheels attached, called a powered parachute. The typical speed of this aircraft is about 25 to 30 miles per hour, and while they can fly at over 18,000 feet, usually they are flown between 500 and 1500 feet. Not your typical parachute, but definitely an aircraft!

By roxytalks — On Feb 01, 2011

I always think as aircraft as things with an engine. It seems kind of silly, now that I've read the article. Of course hot air balloons and gliders would still be considered aircraft -- they fly in the air.

I wonder if a parachute would also be considered a type of aircraft. I know all it does it float to the ground, but that's kind of what a glider does too.

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