Which Wing Design Creates the Greatest Lift?
Andrew Olson, Ph.D., Science Buddies
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Have you ever flown in an airplane, or looked up at one flying in the sky, and wondered how such a massive machine can stay in the air? Airplanes can stay in the air because their wings, also referred to as airfoils, generate lift. Engineers use devices called wind tunnels to experiment and test different wing shapes when they design new airplanes. Wind tunnels let engineers make careful measurements of the air flow around the wing, and measure the amount of lift it generates.
If you can get access to a wind tunnel or build your own using the Science Buddies How to Build and Use a Subsonic Wind Tunnel tutorial, then you can do a science project where you measure the lift generated by different types of airfoils. You will need to do a lot of background research about aerodynamics and the terminology involved, and you will probably need help from an adult if you are going to build your own wind tunnel. Can you compare different wing designs and find out which one generates the most lift?
NASA's Glenn Research Center has a wealth of information on Aeronautics. We recommend that you take some time to explore this site, there's a lot of good stuff here. The "Guided Tours" are an excellent way to navigate through the material.
- Benson, T., 2005. Beginner's Guide to Aeronautics, NASA Glenn Research Center. Retrieved January 16, 2006.
This page has links to several sources of information on aerodynamics:
- O'Sullivan, J., 2001. Aerodynamics Information, Aerospaceweb.org. Retrieved January 16, 2006.
Here is a link to an online airfoil simulation programs (requires a Java-enabled Web browser). You can test and refine your design ideas on the computer before building the actual models.
- Benson, T. et al., 2005. FoilSim II Version 1.5a NASA Glenn Research Center. Retrieved January 16, 2006.
Ask an Expert
- If building a wind tunnel is not an option for you, it doesn't mean that you can't do an aerodynamics project. For example, kites are a great way to learn about aerodynamics. The Wright brothers used kites to test many of their design ideas for their airplane. For more information, see: The Wright Stuff: Using Kites to Study Aerodynamics.
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