- How does an airplane stay up in the air?
You might think that today, more than a century after the Wright brothers flew that first airplane of theirs, most of the people who build and fly airplanes would agree on an explanation for how they stay up there. But just try walking into a room full of pilots and airplane engineers and asking them to explain this to you. The heated arguments and vicious character attacks that will result may well convince you never to step foot on an airplane again.
The reason why it’s so hard to pin down one easy explanation for the force that keeps an airplane up in the air – the ‘lift’, as it is called – is that it’s actually pretty complicated. Most simplified explanations of lift leave out some crucial details, or else they add in some incorrect ones.
The most common incorrect explanation of lift involves Bernoulli’s principle, which is interesting enough that we can spend some time getting to know about it before coming back to the problem of airplanes.