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Bernoulli's Theorem

From December 1943 Air Trails Magazine.

Nearly every model airplane builder knows that the cambered upper surface of an
airfoil produces lift by creating a low-pressure area above the airfoil. However,
comparatively few know why this low-pressure area exists. This low-pressure area on
an airfoil, the curved flight of a spinning ball, the operation of an air-speed indicator,
and even the operation of a atomizer (spray bottle) are but a few of the many things
explained by Bernoullis theorem.
The principle behind Bernoullis theorem is the law of conservation of energy. It states
that energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but merely changed from one form
to another. To illustrate how this applies, let us consider Figure I. which represents a
horizontal pipe with air flowing through it. The air in the pipe has two forms of available
energy. One is potential energy, which is in the form of air pressure. The other is
kinetic energy which the air has by virtue of its motion. Now, notice that the pipe is
constricted at (B). Supposing the cross-sectional area at (B) is one half the crosssectional area at (A): the air will have to move about twice as fast past (B), in order to
allow the same amount of air by in the same time. This is analogous to a nozzle on a
hose, where you obtain a high-velocity stream of water by passing the water through a
small orifice.

Figure 1 - Air flow through an orifice

Now since the air is going faster past (B), it must have more kinetic energy when
passing (B). Recalling the law of conservation of energy, we realize that we must have
converted some of the potential energy in order to have more kinetic energy. Since the
only potential energy available in this set-up is in the form of air pressure, there will be
a low-pressure area in the construction of the pipe at (B). In short, we may say that if
air is flowing, other factors being equal, an increase in velocity will result in a decrease
in pressure; and conversely, a decrease in velocity will result in an increase in
pressure. It should be noted that the pressure and velocity at (C) are the same as at
Now consider Figure II. This represents an airfoil in a wind tunnel. Notice how the

streamlines close in over the top of the airfoil. The closing in of the streamlines
constricts the air flow just as (B) of Figure 1 did. As a result there is an increase in air
velocity over the top of the airfoil and a resulting low-pressure area.

Figure 2 - Airflow over an airfoil

An interesting experiment which beautifully illustrates Bernoullis theorem can easily
be performed. Obtain a light cardboard mailing tube and wrap a strip of cloth about two
feet long around its center. Set the tube on the floor so that the strip of cloth unwinds
from the low side of the tube. Now give the cloth a brisk horizontal pull and the tube
will soar into the air. Figure 3 explains why. The rotation of the tube, coupled with skin
friction, causes an increase in relative air velocity above the tube arid a decrease in
relative air velocity below the tube. This, of course, will create a low-pressure area
above the tube, a high pressure area below the tube and the result is lift. A similar setup causes a spinning ball to curve in flight.

Figure 3 - Airflow over a rotating tube (or a baseball)

I said that Bernoullis theorem explains the operation of an atomizer. When you
squeeze the bulb the air moves through a narrow passage at a high velocity. This high
velocity is, of course, accompanied by a low pressure. The atmospheric pressure on
the surface of the liquid in the bottle then forces the liquid up a tube into the lowpressure area where the high- velocity air sprays the liquid out. Aspirators and many
carburetor jets work in a similar manner.