Tuesday, October 7, 2008

High Pressure Below

In the section dealing with Newton’s laws as they apply to lift, it has already been discussed how a certain amount of lift is generated by pressure conditions underneath the wing. Because of the manner in which air flows underneath the wing, a positive pressure results, particularly at higher angles of attack. But there is another aspect to this airflow that must be considered. At a point close to the leading edge, the airflow is virtually stopped (stagnation point) and then gradually increases speed. At some point near the trailing edge, it has again reached a velocity equal to that on the upper surface. In conformance with Bernoulli’s principles, where the airflow was slowed beneath the wing, a positive upward pressure was created against the wing; i.e., as the fluid speed decreases, the pressure must increase. In essence, this simply “accentuates the positive” since it increases the pressure differential between the upper and lower surface of the airfoil, and therefore increases total lift over that which would have resulted had there been no increase of pressure at the lower surface. Both Bernoulli’s principle and Newton’s laws are in operation whenever lift is being generated by an airfoil.

Fluid flow or airflow then, is the basis for flight in airplanes, and is a product of the velocity of the airplane. The velocity of the airplane is very important to the pilot since it affects the lift and drag forces of the airplane. The pilot uses the velocity (airspeed) to fly at a minimum glide angle, at maximum endurance, and for a number of other flight maneuvers. Airspeed is the velocity of the airplane relative to the air mass through which it is flying.

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