What Makes An Airplane Fly?
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What Makes An Airplane Fly?

What Makes An Airplane Fly?

Everyone fascinated with flying surely started as a child asking simple questions which strangely were right into the point. The obvious answers would be that airplanes fly because they have wings, propellers, engines and pilots. Knowing how these four elements work altogether however would be incomplete without knowing the science behind which brought us what came to be known as the theory of flight.

Daniel Bernoulli's Influence

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The fascinating aspect of life is that we usually base our applied science from the discoveries of wise men who have lived centuries before us. Daniel Bernoulli lived from 1700 to 1782 and it would take more than a century later when the first airplane as invented by the Wright Brothers would take flight but how he was credited for publishing "Hydrodynamica" in 1738 became the central idea which provided the basis for the theory of flight. So came to be known “Bernoulli's Principle” maintaining that fluid pressure decreases as the velocity increases. Applying this principle to air as it moves around the wing gives rise to the element of “lift”which contributes to the phenomenon we call flight.

The Four Forces Acting on An Aircraft in Flight

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The lifting force needed to lift an airplane to keep it on the air is just one of the four forces that makes flight possible. Unpowered flights as demonstrated by gliders before the airplane was invented validated this, however an opposing force (as Newton's Third Law of Motion dictates),”weight” causes gliders to return to the ground after losing lift when the wind slows down. So it wasn't until a working engine was invented to be integrated into a glider that the concept of a working airplane with controls was conceptualized. The engine spinning a propeller in front of the airplane accounts for the third force called “thrust” pulling it forward through the air and the opposing force resulting from this,“drag” completes the puzzle which makes powered flight possible. On take-off or in initiating a climb, thrust works at maximum (greater than drag), lift is also maximized exceeding the airplane's overall weight allowing the whole aircraft to gain altitude. In cruising or straight and level flight, lift equals weight and thrust exceeds drag in order for the airplane to move forward. In order to land the airplane, the pilot decreases the power on the engine allowing for the thrust from the propeller to work just enough to support the airplane to glide at its own weight and align to the nearest runway for landing.

References: Bernoulli, Daniel. (2011). Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite.  Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica.

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Comments (18)
Ranked #63 in Science

A good, basic introduction to the science of aerodynamics. Another work of perfection, Deep Blue.

Ranked #12 in Science

very good article, it is interesting how airplanes function and are made

Ranked #1 in Science

Thanks for your valued comments, Jerry, Carol.

Beautiful writing as always Will.

I knew I would be learning from an expert when I discovered this article.thank you.

Liked - shared - good job

Nice article. I voted this one. Hope you support my articles too.

Ang galing kabayan.

Very interesting an deasy to understand.

Ranked #35 in Science

vivid and clear explanation and illustration..this will inspire more those aspiring pilots-to-be

A very good discussion about aerodynamics, Will, FB liked.

Thank you dear Deep Blue for this work on air flight. Nice article. Voted. I appreciate your friendship and support.

Impressive and educational piece of writing. I learned a lot fro your professional insight

Out of votes so promoted this.

Very educational. thanks for sharing.

Great information on a subject we just take for granted.

Ranked #4 in Science

Great topics on Physics...

Ranked #10 in Science

Nobody can beat you on this ground.