The week before Thanksgiving break was a hectic one for the Colgate Men’s soccer team, but for all the best reasons. The Patriot League Championship granted us birth in the first round of the NCAA tournament and a flight all the way to Los Angeles to play against UCLA. As I was studying physics on the flight, I thought about the physics of how a plane’s wing turns it from an impractical car and into a flying thing of beauty.
The wing of the plane is shaped so that the top is curved near the front, while the bottom is flat. As the wing moves through the atmosphere, air passes above and below the wing. Due to the curve of the top of the wing, air must flow a longer distance and thus at a faster speed. The air below the wing travels a shorter distance and thus at a slower speed. This is where Bernoulli’s Principle comes into play. Because of the faster speed of the air above the wing, there is greater flow, causing a low-pressure system just above the wing. The slower air traveling below the wing has lower flow, thus higher pressure. This imbalance of pressure causes lift!
This can also cause a problem in flight. If the wing is at too great of an angle, it is difficult for air to pass over the top of the wing, reducing flow, and decreasing pressure. This can cause the plane to stall, which can be very dangerous during takeoff and landing when the plane’s airspeed is low, the angle of the wing is high, and the plane is low to the ground. While this may make you worry during your next flight, you should not worry. In the hands of a trained pilot, these maneuvers are routine and all precautions are taken to ensure safe travel.