It’s not very often we stop to think about how freaking amazing it is that we can fly all around the world in a colossal hunk of metal about 10 kilometers above Earth’s surface and, statistically, is a lot safer than driving a car on land.
Being able to fly in an airplane is nothing short of a technological marvel and we should all be holding our seats in unbridled awe every time we take off, right?
But about that technological marvel – what exactly is the science behind it?
The most important thing to remember when thinking through the physics of flight is that there’s no net force applied to an airplane.
And with no net force, an object at rest stays at rest.
Not that there aren’t any forces at all acting on the plane – there’s gravity for one, all the heavy people on board and even the air molecules that are being funneled through the fuselage or colliding with the wings are exerting some force onto it. But as long as these forces are counteracted, and in this case, they have to be counteracted by forced moving upwards, then the plane will stay where it is.
So what are these upwards forces that can counteract gravity and hundreds of heavy people? How do airplanes stay in the sky?
There are four forces that keep an airplane in the sky. They are lift, weight, thrust and drag.
Lift pushes the airplane up. The way air moves around the wings gives the airplane lift. The shape of the wings helps with lift, too.
Weight is the force that pulls the airplane toward Earth. Airplanes are built so that their weight is spread from front to back. This keeps the airplane balanced.
Thrust is the force that moves the airplane forward. Engines give thrust to airplanes. Sometimes an engine turns a propeller. Sometimes it is a jet engine. It doesn’t matter as long as air keeps going over the wings.
Drag slows the airplane. You can feel drag when you walk against a strong wind. Airplanes are designed to let air pass around them with less drag. An airplane flies when all four forces work together. But, most airplanes need one more thing: They need a pilot to fly them!
Watch the video below to witness the amazing physics behind planes for a more vivid true to life experience, and remember to grab your seat in awe next time you fly.
via Minute Physics and NASA Gov