Most days you can look up and see an airplane in the sky somewhere. Cruising around 40,000 feet above the earth, planes are a feat of engineering and are something that are taken for granted every day. Until 100 years ago the fastest method of travel was to take a car or to ride on horseback; and here we are today with jet planes that break the sound barrier. So, what is it that enables a plane to fly? With a quick observation, it is obvious that the wings are the mechanism for it all. Let’s take a closer look!
The flight of on airplane simplifies down to the relationship between 4 forces. Gravity, lift, drag and thrust. These for forces each pull the plane in a different direction. Thrust and drag oppose each other, but because there is more thrust than drag and airplane moves forward. That leaves gravity and lift. Gravity is acting on everything all the time. To achieve flight, some lift must be generated to get an object off the ground and most importantly, keep it off the ground. Since we know that the wings play a key role in this, we can analyze what it is they do to keep us in the air.
The lift generated by the wing of any aircraft is a result of pressure. Airplane wings are shaped in such a way that a pressure difference is created between the top and bottom of the wing. The air on the bottom is forced downward by the wing creating a higher pressure in relation to the air on the top of the wing that is offered little obstruction. Think about holding a plate in your hand with your palm facing upwards. When you raise the plate your hand is putting some pressure on the bottom of the plate. Because the top of the plate experience no pressure, the plate moves upwards. The force that you applied is greater than that of gravity, allowing for movement of the plate. Then, as you hold that plate steady at its new height, there is an equal and opposite force acting on the plate from your hand and gravity, allowing the plate to maintain its newly achieved height.
Flight is an amazing feat of human achievement. Allowing people to travel as far as the moon. At the end of the day however, flight breaks down to the fundamental forces acting on the plane as it moves through space.