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The Hidden World of Technology

Understanding Flight: A Physical Description
of How Airplanes Fly

Dr. Scott Eberhardt - University of Washington

March 23, 2004

Did you ever wonder how a Boeing 747, weighing 910,000 lbs at takeoff can possibly get off the ground? Or, did you ever wonder how airplanes fly upside down? Why is there a "backside of the power curve?" What makes a wing efficient? These questions can be answered when lift is developed in terms of Newton's laws. A Newtonian description of lift gives an intuitive feel for how airplanes fly, without the need for complicated analysis or approximations. Through the application of Newton's three laws, we will develop the role of the angle of attack, the power curve and an understanding of wing efficiency. You will gain insight into conclusions of classical aerodynamics without the need for analysis. The next time you are on an airplane, you will understand how and why the wing is able to carry such a large load.

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