Science Fair Project: What Makes the Airplane Fly?

 By: Morton L. Barish
A good idea for a science fair project is to find out what makes an airplane fly. We earthlings are really two dimensional animals. At an early age we learn how to ride a three wheel bicycle. We learn how to turn left or to turn right. After a while we get on roller skates, and here again we learn how to turn but whether on the bike or the skates, we never learn how to go up or down. You just cannot go up or down in our two dimensional worlds, not until we learn how to defy gravity.

Your science fair project is going to be about the three dimensional world of flying. After the youngsters have grown up and moved from skates and bikes, they eventually learn how to drive cars, and then really get into the use of power in the two dimensional world.

All of these skills and experiences we have all learned and experienced, by living in two dimensions, will not qualify you for the three dimensional world of flying. Here are some good examples that you will want to know about for your science fair project. You are flying an airplane, straight and level, nice sunny day, no big mountains to worry about, good weather forecast, CAVU, as the pilots say, which means Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited. Now you decide you want to go up. You want to increase your altitude from 6000 feet all the way up to 7000 feet. What do you do? Why you pull back on the wheel and the nose of your airplane will point upward.

And thus you will begin to go from 6000 feet up to 7000 feet. Right? Wrong! Even though the nose of your airplane will point upward, the airplane will begin to lose altitude and you will go down. By pulling back on the wheel, you have changed your attitude, but have not increased your altitude. Before pulling back on the wheel, you were going straight and level. After pulling back on the wheel you were no longer going straight and level, You changed the attitude of the plane to a nose up position. Well then, how do I increase my altitude?. You increase your altitude by increasing your power. Give it a little more gas, and the plane will start to go up.

Now let us try another maneuver for our science fair project. Let us decide to make a left turn. Nothing to it. Just turn the wheel to the left just like driving a car. Right? Wrong! Here again, when you turn your wheel to the left, the nose of your plane will turn left, but the plane will begin to veer to the right. Here again you have changed the attitude but you have not accomplished your goal. If fact just like when you wanted to go up, you ended up going down. Now that you want to turn left, you end up going right. If you want to go left, you must remember that the airplane is working in three dimensions, unlike that two dimensional car that you drive. You must apply some rudder when you turn the wheel to the left, so that you take advantage of the three dimensionality of the aircraft to execute a left turn.

When you learn to fly you will see that following the rules of the two dimensional world, will get you into big trouble if you try to maneuver in the three dimensional world. If you try to go up in an airplane using what you learned to drive a car, you will go down. If you try to go left in an airplane the same way as driving a car, you will go right.
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