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Old 6th Sep 2010, 15:42
  #231 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: France
Posts: 2,319
Originally Posted by Shanewhite View Post
Could you explain to a complete novice the relationship between IAS, TAS ,GS and Mach no.?
I'll try....

TAS (true air speed) is simple, it's the true speed of the aircraft through the air.

GS (ground speed) is equally simple, it's the speed of the aircraft over the ground i.e., TAS plus the component of the wind along the flight path. If your TAS is 1300 mph and you have a 100 mph tailwind, your GS will be 1400 mph.

Mach no. is TAS divided by the local speed of sound.
The speed of sound in air depends almost exclusively on the temperature: in a 'standard' atmosphere it's 760 mph on the ground at +15C, drops to 660 mph at 37000ft / -57C and remains constant above that height.

It's IAS (indicated air speed) that's complicated....

Lift, drag, control forces, stability, etc. are all proportional to the 'dynamic pressure' that the aircraft experiences moving through the air.
This 'dynamic pressure' is proportional to density x TAS squared.

Now take an aircraft flying along horizontally at sea level, say at 200 mph.
Lift = weight, so the aircraft stays on a horizontal flight path.

Take this same plane, without changing anything else, to an altitude where the air density is half that at sea level.

Dynamic pressure is now half, so the lift is half as well, but the weight is still the same, so the aircraft can no longer fly horizontally.

So what do we do... we increase the TAS until the dynamic pressure is the same as it was at 200 mph at sea level.
Half the density, so (TAS squared) has to be double, so TAS has to be increased to 1.4 (sqrt of 2) x 200 mph = 280 mph.

This is somewhat confusing for the pilot.... He flies the same aircraft, same weight, same angle of attack, etc. but not the same TAS... he'd have to mentally juggle airspeed and density (altitude) the whole time to maintain horizontal flight at different levels.

It would be much easier if he had an indicator showing dynamic pressure... and maintain that constant for different altitudes.
This is where IAS comes in.

Stick your hand out of a car window. The force you feel is due to the dynamic pressure.
Stick a tube, closed at one end, into the airstream and measure the pressure with a basic pressure indicator, that's your dynamic pressure.

Now the 'clever' bit. Mark your indicator, not in bar or psi, but in mph, so that at sea level it will indicate the same speed as the TAS (200 mph in the example).

Now, same as above, go and fly at an altitude where the density is half, with a TAS of 280 mph. Your indicator will still show 200 mph, showing you that the dynamic pressure, hence the forces (lift, drag, etc.) are the same as those at sea level at 200 mph.

So the 200 mph is your IAS, your "indicated air speed".

It's the IAS that tells you what happens to your aircraft in terms of the forces and aerodynamics, and that's why figures such as the Vne (never-exceed speed) or the stall speed are always in mph or knots IAS, not TAS.

As a matter of fact, a pilot is not very much interested in TAS as such, and most aircraft do not even have a TAS indicator.

It's not until you start approaching the speed of sound that TAS becomes important, and even then it's not TAS as such that's used but its relation to the speed of sound, i.e., the Mach number.

OK, Shanewhite, it's a long and complicated description, but maybe it helps?


Edit PS : I see mykul10 already had a go as well. So much the better, explanations from two different sides nearly always complement each other!
ChristiaanJ is offline