How a Plane Wing Really Works

By Sam Gibbs on at

The power of flight is an amazing and beautiful thing to get your head around, but apparently we've all been taught wrongly. We know a wing blazes through the air with a shape that causes lower pressure on top of it and higher below it, which affectively sucks the wing upwards. However, it’s the shape of the wing not the time it takes the air to travel around it that produces flight.

As the video above from a Cambridge Professor clearly demonstrates, the air from the top of the wing hits the back of the wing way before the air below – they’re not in sync and don’t speed up or slow down to match up with each other at the back of the wing. Prof. Babinsky said:

“A wing lifts when the air pressure above it is lowered. It’s often said that this happens because the airflow moving over the top, curved surface has a longer distance to travel and needs to go faster to have the same transit time as the air travelling along the lower, flat surface. But this is wrong"

“What actually causes lift is introducing a shape into the airflow, which curves the streamlines and introduces pressure changes – lower pressure on the upper surface and higher pressure on the lower surface"

It’s just the introduction of a shape into the airflow that causes the pressure changes and therefore lift – a fundamental of aerodynamics that’s taught wrongly, even to pilots, which is a tad scary. Check out the video above that clearly shows the airflow with smoke. It’s science, but it’s actually quite pretty too.