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How Airplanes Fly

04 Dec 2017

It is not hard to see what helps certain things fly. We see birds flapping their wings while they are in the sky, rockets ejecting a fiery burning gas at take off and helicopters with huge blades that rotate at terrifying speeds.

How Airplanes Fly
Rockets burn huge amounts of fuel when taking off to the skies.

What about the aeroplane you boarded that flew you to Seoul? Sure, they have wings but theirs do not flap like a bird’s. Neither does a plane eject burning gas nor does it have rotating blades. How then, does it fly?

The science behind it is simple, but first we need to understand something called air pressure. Air is made up of many tiny particles that are invisible to the eye. These particles exert force in all directions, not just downwards. Just how strong is this force? To give you an idea, take a look at the suction cup that is holding up the soap dish in the bathroom.

What is keeping it stuck to the wall? If you guessed that it is due to air pressure, you are right! When we press the suction cup to the wall, we expel almost all the air between the cup and the wall. As a result, there is a difference in air pressure on opposite sides of the cup – very low air pressure on the side facing the wall and normal atmospheric pressure on the other side. The greater pressure on the side of the cup that faces away from the wall is what keeps the cup stuck to the wall.

So, it is really air that is holding up your soap!

The design of the airplane wing hinges on the workings of air pressure as well. It has a convex surface on the top and a flat surface below. As a result, when the plane moves through the air, it forces the air above the wing to move at a faster speed compared to the air below. The faster air moves, the lower the pressure. Thus, when the airplane moves through the air, a difference in air pressure on the wings is created, which lifts the airplane into the air.

How Airplanes Fly
Diagram of how air pressure works on the wings of a plane.

The next time you take an aeroplane, try to look out the window and picture the air pressure working on the wings of the aeroplane. You can encourage your child to learn about the Science behind the everyday things that you encounter in life.

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