When it comes down to aviation, most of us may just think boarding a plane, getting to your destination and that’s it. But just like the cars you see on the road, there exist a wide variety of aircraft, grouped into different categories, each serving a unique purpose. From the different types of commercial aircraft, to the fighters you see on television during a movie or when watching an airshow, this article sets out to subtly expand your knowledge on the various categories of aircraft that exist, and some of the aircraft types one might expect to find in each group.


Okay, whether you are a hobby pilot looking for a used plane for sale or a complete novice, for those that thought airplane and aircraft mean the same thing, you wouldn’t be wrong, and you wouldn’t be right either. Kind of like saying a lion is a cat, an airplane is a category of aircraft that are described as being heavier than air fixed-wing aircraft driven by an forward thrust from a mounted engine. These normally come in various shapes and forms including wing placement. Their uses generally include recreation, transportation and military functions. This category is further broken down into single-engine land class, multi-engine land class, single-engine sea class and multi-engine sea class.


Also known as rotary-wing aircraft, these are flying machines that make use of the lift generated by their rotary blade or wings. These blades work by revolving around a mast, generating enough lift to carry the craft upward. These blades on the mast are collectively referred to as a rotor. These rotors are normally required to sustain the aircraft throughout the flight with an increase or decrease in lift resulting in more or less thrust respectively. Example include, but are not limited to helicopters, cyclocopters, autogyros and gyrodynes. Some may also include additional engines or thrust propellers for added lift, as well as static landing points.


These types of aircraft are basically able to take off vertically and land in the same manner as well. This aspect may make them similar to rotorcraft, except that they perform differently during horizontal flight. Essentially, these aircraft make use of both rotors as well as thrust engines in order to generate enough lift for takeoff as well as landing. They are also normally heavier than air.


These aircraft make use of wind and as well as rising columns of hot air that act on its wings thus providing lift. They do not make use of any engines for their population and are normally released from high altitudes by other aircraft that might carry them there. They can be manned or unmanned, with the latter mostly used for military operations given the low risk to human life involved. For recreational purposes, they can be used in air sports such as hand gliding and paragliding.


These types of aircraft gain their lift via use of buoyant gas. Less commonly referred to as aerostats, they can include unpowered balloons and powered airships. Their average density tends to be lower than that of air and with the addition of the gas, buoyancy is achieved. The name aerostat comes from the aircraft’s ability to utilize aerostatic lift, a force that requires no movement through the surrounding air. Examples include hot air balloons, blimps and airships.

In summary, there exist a wide variety of aircraft, but when it comes down to categorizing them, then the field is narrowed out. So next time you board a plane, you’re sure to impress the flight attendants with your more than average knowledge of air travel, which in turn might just help you score that extra bag of peanuts.

Alan Carr bio