Flying is an amazing experience, but how do airplanes actually stay up in the air? The answer lies in some basic physics principles that we’ll explain below. Even if you don’t know much about aerodynamics, this explanation will help you understand how airplanes work by breaking down one of the most important concepts: lift.
Airplane wings are shaped to make air move faster over the top of the wing.
Airplane wings are shaped to make air move faster over the top of the wing, and slower over the bottom of it. This means that when an airplane is moving through the sky, it’s actually pushing itself forward by creating low pressure beneath its wings. As you might guess from this explanation, airplanes with straight wings (like those on most small planes) don’t have much lift—they’re not good at staying up in the air.
Airplanes with curved or swept-back wings (like those on high speed jets) do have more lift because their planform makes them more efficient at creating low pressure below themselves as they fly forward through air.
When air moves faster, the pressure of the air decreases.
When air moves faster, the pressure of the air decreases. As you know from high school physics class, when pressure is lower, there’s less force pushing against something and as a result, it goes up. On top of an airplane wing that means that there’s less force pushing down on it so it starts to rise into the air (this effect is called lift).
What do we mean by “speed”? Well, speed has two meanings:
- Velocity—how fast an object is moving at any given moment
- Speed—the rate at which something travels in a particular direction
The pressure on the top of the wing is less than the pressure on the bottom of the wing.
All of this means that the pressure on the top of the wing is less than the pressure on the bottom of the wing. The difference in pressure creates a force on the wing that lifts it up into the air. This force is called “lift,” and it’s created by differences in air pressure—just like how water can’t pass through a Siphon bottle when there’s a partial vacuum inside.
The difference in pressure creates a force on the wing that lifts the wing up into the air.
In order to understand how airplanes fly, you need to know a little bit about air pressure. Air pressure is caused by the weight of all the air molecules around us pushing down on our bodies and on whatever else they’re touching. The higher up you go in altitude, the less dense those air molecules become—meaning there are fewer of them for any given space. So at sea level, where we live most of our lives (at roughly one mile above sea level), there are roughly 30 pounds per square inch (PSI) pressing down on every square inch of surface area exposed to the atmosphere around us. But at 10,000 feet above sea level—the same height at which an airplane cruises—the PSI drops by half because there are 50% fewer molecules within that square-inch surface area as compared with lower altitudes on Earth’s surface! This difference creates enough force that it enables airplanes to fly without anything keeping them aloft except their wings and propellers (or jet engines).
Airplane wings create lift by making low pressure above them, and high pressure below them.
The difference in pressure between the high-pressure air beneath and low-pressure air above the wing creates a force that lifts the wing up into the air. Since airplanes fly at lower speeds than birds, they need less downward force than birds to stay airborne.
Airplanes fly because their wings generate lift by making low pressure above them and high pressure below them. The difference in pressure between these two places creates a force on the wing that lifts it up into the air. A similar phenomenon occurs when you hold your hand out of a moving car window—the higher pressure under your hand pushes it down, while there is no such force pulling it back toward where you were sitting inside (low pressure). The same principle applies here: fast moving wind over top of an airplane’s wings causes more lift than slow moving wind underneath would cause, so we can say that this faster moving air exerts less drag on our airplane than slower moving air would do on theirs, causing both types’ vehicles to rise off their respective ground surfaces as well as move forward without being pushed back down again by gravity alone.”
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