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TheScienceofFlight

BackgroundInformation
Flightisaphenomenonthathaslongbeenapartofthenaturalworld.Birdsflynotonlybyflappingtheir
wings,butbyglidingwiththeirwingsoutstretchedforlongdistances.Smoke,whichiscomposedoftinyparticles,
canrisethousandsoffeetintotheair.Boththesetypesofflightarepossiblebecauseoftheprinciplesofphysical
science.Likewise,manmadeaircraftrelyontheseprinciplestoovercometheforceofgravityandachieveflight.
Lighterthanaircraft,suchasthehotairballoon,workonabuoyancyprinciple.Theyfloatonairmuchlike
raftsfloatonwater.Thedensityofaraftislessthanthatofwater,soitfloats.Althoughthedensityofwateris
constant,thedensityofairdecreaseswithaltitude.Thedensityofhotairinsideaballoonislessthanthatoftheair
atsealevel,sotheballoonrises.Itwillcontinuetoriseuntiltheairoutsideoftheballoonisofthesamedensityas
theairinside.Smokeparticlesriseonaplumeofhotairbeinggeneratedbyafire.Whentheaircools,theparticles
fallbacktoEarth.
Heavierthanairflightismadepossiblebyacarefulbalanceoffourphysicalforces:lift,drag,weight,and
thrust.Forflight,anaircraft'sliftmustbalanceitsweight,anditsthrustmustexceeditsdrag.Aplaneusesitswings
forliftanditsenginesforthrust.Dragisreducedbyaplane'ssmoothshapeanditsweightiscontrolledbythe
materialsitisconstructedof.

HowitReallyWorks
Anobjectinflightisconstantlyengaginginatugofwarbetweentheopposingforcesoflift,weight(gravity),
thrustanddrag.Flightdependsontheseforceswhethertheliftforceisgreaterthantheweightforceandwhether
thrustisgreaterthandrag(friction)forces.

Liftanddragareconsidered
aerodynamic
forcesbecausetheyexistduetothemovementofanobject(such
asaplane)throughtheair.Theweightpullsdownontheplaneopposingtheliftcreatedbyairflowingoverthe
wing.Thrustisgeneratedbythe
propeller
(engine)andopposesdragcausedbyairresistance.Duringtakeoff,
thrustmustcounteractdragandliftmustcounteracttheweightbeforetheplanecanbecomeairborne.
Ifaplaneorbirdfliesstraightata
constantspeed
:
liftforceupwards=weightforcedownwards(sotheplane/birdstaysataconstantheight)
thrustforceforwards=opposingforceofdrag(sotheplane/birdstaysataconstantspeed).
Iftheforcesarenotequalorbalanced,theobjectwillspeedup,slowdownorchangedirectiontowardsthe
greatestforce.
Forexample,ifaplanesengineproducesmorethrust,itwillaccelerate.Theaccelerationincreasesair
speedpastthewing,whichincreasesliftsotheplanegainsaltitude.Then,becausetheplaneismovingfaster,drag
(airresistance)isincreased,whichslowstheplanefromspeedingupasquicklyuntilthrustanddragareequal
again.Theplanecannowremainataconstantbutgreaterheight.Aplanecanlosealtitudebyreducingthrust.
Dragbecomesgreaterthanthrustandtheplaneslowsdown.Thisreducesliftandtheplanedescends.

TheSecretFormula
2
L=(1/2)dv
sCL

L=
lift
,whichmustequaltheairplane'sweightinpounds
d=
density
oftheair(thiswillchangeduetoaltitude)
v=
velocity
ofanaircraftexpressedinfeetpersecond
s=
wingarea
ofanaircraftinsquarefeet
CL=
coefficientoflift
,whichisdeterminedbythetypeofairfoilandangleofattack