Understanding Lift of an Airplane
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Understanding Lift of an Airplane

When you see a plane flying high in the sky, do you wonder how it is able to stay in the air?

When you see a plane flying high in the sky, do you wonder how it is able to stay in the air? There is a lot of science behind lift, that I won't be getting into. I'll just explain it in easy to understand language. 

I’m a wanna-be pilot. My dad was a pilot and my uncle was also a pilot. My uncle was a flying game warden, and my dad was a private pilot. I’ve been flying with my dad since I was just 2 years old. I have always wanted to be a pilot myself, but just never found the time or the money to learn. If I ever get a do-over on life, I will make sure I do become a pilot, because I am very interested in how a heavy airplane can fly through the air without falling to the ground.

How does a motorized airplane create lift?

The propellers cut through the air and cause a stream of air to flow over the wings. The airflow moving over the wings weakens the air pressure above the wings; therefore, the pressure below the wings becomes stronger and allows for the airplane to lift into the air. This is exactly how birds are able to fly and maintain their flight. They can float along the air currents, as the air above the wings has a lower pressure than the air currents below the wings.

The shape of the wings also helps for the plane to get lift off and maintain flight. You will notice on an airplane that the wings have a definite shape. They are rounded on the side that slices through the air and narrow on the end where the air comes back together. This is an aerodynamic design of airplane wings, so that the air above the wing lifts off the top of the wing and the air under the wing pushes up on the wing and creates lift. The shape of the wing reduces drag. The wings are designed with flaps that will help the pilot control the plane.

The faster the plane is pulled through the air via the propellers, the faster the wings cut through the air. The faster the wings cut through the air the more lift is created under the wings, and the plane goes higher into the air. You can only get so much lift from the design of the wings, so then wings need a little help in gaining lift. The pilot can increase the lift by using the flaps. Air is like a fluid and follows the curved surface of the wing, and will also be influenced by the flaps to increase or decrease lift.

The engine is a turbine, and the propeller or propellers are like a windmill. The engine provides the energy for the plane to stay in the air. Without the work of the engine, the plane could not be pulled through the air. As the plane is pulled through the air, the air under the plane is pushed down, which creates the lift. In other words, the air being pushed down has higher pressure than the air above the plane, which creates lift.

I’ve just explained, in very simple terms, how an airplane with an engine can obtain lift and stay in the air. My next article will address how an airplane without an engine can stay in the air. This article doesn't include information about how the plane is 'steered' through the air. Other articles will address these issues. 

Image credit: Wikipedia.org



Growing up with pilots in the family

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Comments (5)
Ranked #12 in Science

very interesting article

Very interesting.

Ranked #1 in Science

Very well explained Charlene. We have the same interest in flight but simply prevented by life's circumstances.

very nice article

Ranked #9 in Science

Thanks everyone. I will be writing many more on this topic. I can't afford to get a pilots license now. I wish I could go back and change that.