Every flying thing, whether it’s an airplane, spacecraft, soccer ball, or flying kid, experiences four aerodynamic forces: lift, weight, thrust, and drag. An airplane uses a propeller or jet engine to generate thrust. The wings create lift. The smooth, pencil-thin shape minimizes drag. And the molecules that make up the airplane attribute to the weight.
Think of a time when you were riding in a fast-moving car. Imagine rolling down the window and sticking out your hand, palm down. The wind slips over your hand. Suppose you turn your palm to face the horizon. In which position do you think you would feel more force against your hand?
When designing airplanes, engineers pay attention to details, such as the position of two important points: the center of gravity and the center of pressure (also called the center of lift). On an airplane, if the center of gravity and center of pressure points are reversed, the aircraft’s flight is unstable and it will somersault into chaos. The same is true for rockets and missiles!
How to Build an Airplane
Materials: balsa wood flyer
This video shows how to use a balsa airplane to show what all the parts (rudder, wings, elevator, fuselage) are for. You can pick one up for a few dollars, usually at a toy store, or make your own (see second video below).
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