What Makes an Airplane Fly?

Posted by on 07/02/2016

It took humanity hundreds of years to figure out how to get a plane in the air, but technology has improved rapidly ever since. Still, the idea of a large metal object flying through the air surprises some minds. The secret behind what makes an airplane fly is a combination of aerodynamics, engineering, and basic physics. Here is an in-depth look at the truth behind what makes airplanes fly.

The Forces of Physics

When examining what makes an airplane fly, it’s important to have a basic grasp of physics, especially when it comes to force. All objects are influenced by force, which is a pull on the object that directs it in a particular direction. The most common force we experience is gravity, and, as you know, it keeps us on the ground. Airplanes have to deal with two forces that try to keep it from flying: gravity, which pulls it downward, and drag, which represents air friction and tries to keep it from going forward. To combat these forces, the airline has to create two stronger forces: lift to pull it up away from the ground and thrust to get it moving forward through the sky.

How to Overcome Gravity and Drag

When it comes down to it, what makes a plane fly is the aerodynamic design that uses air currents to defy the force of gravity. The curved upper surface of a plane’s wing and the flat lower surface creates a pressure difference that causes the wings to gain lift. As the plane gains speed, the lift overcomes the force of gravity, which propels it upward. Once the plane is in the air at the desired altitude, the wings can be adjusted to reduce the pressure until it equals the downward pull of gravity. As long as the pressure is equal, the plane’s altitude won’t change.

Generating Thrust

It took humanity many years to figure out what makes an airplane fly. In the end, the answer turns out to be a matter of air manipulation and physics. As long as the airflow generates enough lift and the engines provide enough thrust, planes of any size can stay in the air for quite a while.