The Science Behind How Planes Stay in the Air

Uncategorized By Aug 12, 2023

Planes stay in the air through the principles of aerodynamics, with lift being a crucial factor. Lift is generated by the shape of the wings, which creates a pressure difference and an upward force. Thrust and drag also play important roles in keeping a plane airborne, with thrust generated by the engines and drag being the resistance the plane encounters. Control surfaces such as ailerons, elevators, and the rudder provide stability and maneuverability. Takeoff speed varies depending on factors such as weight and design, planes can glide without engines, wing angles provide stability, pilots cannot change the shape of the wings during flight, and planes are designed to handle turbulence.

The Science Behind How Planes Stay in the Air

The Science Behind How Planes Stay in the Air


Planes have revolutionized the way we travel, allowing us to traverse vast distances in a remarkably short amount of time. But have you ever wondered how these massive machines stay airborne? The answer lies in the principles of aerodynamics.

The Role of Lift

At the heart of airplane flight is the concept of lift. Lift is the force that counteracts the weight of an aircraft, allowing it to stay aloft. This force is generated by the shape of the wings and the movement of air over them.

The wings of a plane are designed with a special curved shape called an airfoil. When air flows over the curved upper surface of the wing, it needs to travel a longer distance compared to the air passing underneath the wing. As a result, the speed of the air over the upper surface increases, leading to a decrease in pressure according to Bernoulli’s principle. This pressure difference between the upper and lower surfaces creates an upward force, known as lift.

The Importance of Thrust and Drag

Lift alone is not enough to keep a plane in the air. Another crucial aspect is the balance between thrust and drag. Thrust is generated by the engines of the aircraft, propelling it forward. The amount of thrust needed depends on factors such as the weight of the plane, its design, and the desired speed. On the other hand, drag is the resistance encountered by the plane as it moves through the air.

To maintain level flight, the thrust produced by the engines must match the total drag experienced by the aircraft. If the drag exceeds the thrust, the plane will slow down, while if the thrust exceeds the drag, the plane will accelerate. By adjusting these forces, pilots can control the speed and altitude of the aircraft.

Stabilizing with Control Surfaces

In addition to lift, thrust, and drag, airplanes employ various control surfaces to achieve stability and maneuverability. These surfaces include the ailerons, elevators, and rudder.

Ailerons are located on the trailing edge of the wings and control the roll of the aircraft. When one aileron moves up, the other moves down, allowing the plane to roll left or right. Elevators, placed on the tail, control the pitch of the aircraft, allowing it to ascend or descend. The rudder, also situated on the tail, enables the plane to yaw or turn left and right.


1. How fast does an airplane need to go to take off?

The takeoff speed of an airplane depends on factors such as its weight, design, and wing configuration. Commercial jets usually require a speed range of 130 to 180 miles per hour for takeoff.

2. Can a plane stay in the air without engines?

Yes, airplanes can glide and maintain flight without engines. During a glide, the airplane utilizes the lift generated by its wings to stay in the air. Pilots are trained to handle such situations in case of engine failure.

3. Why are airplane wings angled?

The angle, known as the wing’s dihedral angle, provides stability by reducing the rolling motion of the aircraft during flight. This design feature helps maintain a desired level flight and helps counteract disturbances caused by gusts of wind.

4. Can pilots change the shape of the wings during flight?

No, pilots cannot change the shape of the wings during flight. The shape of the wings is fixed and optimized for performance. However, pilots can control the aircraft’s movement using the control surfaces mentioned earlier.

5. How do airplanes handle turbulence?

Modern airplanes are designed to withstand turbulence and are equipped with advanced systems to detect and minimize its effects. Additionally, experienced pilots use their skills to navigate through turbulent conditions, ensuring a smoother flight for passengers.