First Pluto’s not a planet… now Bernoulli’s principle doesn’t cause a plane to fly?


I’m a nerd. Every time I fly, I look out the window and think about Bernoulli’s principle. In fact, it’s one of those things where I try NOT to think about it when I fly, but by trying NOT to think about it, I think about it. But yesterday, someone who works at GE Aircraft Engines told me that it wasn’t true!

His explanation was a wing generates lift because it causes air to change direction and flow downward, resulting in a force upward (Newton’s 3rd law, or to most people, DUH). I did some Googling, and the best article I found was this one (warning: not for non-nerds, but simple enough for normal nerds). Apparently there’s a fierce debate on amongst the nerd community about this on Saturday nights at the library. Basically, it says that an airplane wing itself doesn’t provide lift, it prevents a stall.

So when a plane takes off, are the wings angled towards the ground? I think so, but I can’t remember for sure. The next time I fly, I’m going to have a lot more to think about other than “don’t think about Bernoulli’s principle… DOH!”

It was shocking to me to hear that the things I was taught in school may not be true. Or, maybe it was an oversimplified version of the truth. It shows that we need to be open minded about new ways of thinking about things. Just because something’s been around for a long time doesn’t mean it’s right.




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