# Thread: Schools not teaching physics ?

1. ## Schools not teaching physics ?

My son arrived home from school yesterday. After a physics lesson his homework involved flight and the wing and why it flies.

After questioning him I find he was told that a wing flies because of the reduced pressure of air flowing over the top surface of the wing and hence lift is generated. Bernoulli in other words.

The problem I have with that is that it has been known for years that this is not the full story, the pressure difference explained by Bernoulli accounts for a very small percentage of the lift generated. By far the vast majority of lift is generated by the deflection of the mass of air downwards, Newton in other words.

Wings fly because a mass of air is deflected downwards mostly, the additional lift from Bernoulli just helps it.

I suppose the best example of this is when an aircraft takes off, if it was purely down to Bernoulli the aircraft would simply lift off the ground once it attained take off speed without having to pull back on the stick, but they never would because the lift generated is simply not nearly enough. Aircraft have to flair or give the wing an angle of attack to the airflow to generate real lift and get the plane off the ground.

Having looked around the web there still seems to be a raging debate about this for some reason.

What were you told at school, and where do you stand on the debate, with Bernoulli or Newton ?

2. As a pilot, I've always tried to see the fluid dynamics of the situation. The images of a wing in a wind tunnel with smoke in the airstream help me mentally. The answer to the need for rotation and flair is that they are useful techniques. An aircraft will eventually fly off the runway with no increase in the pitch angle. Rotation is just a safe way to expedite departure from the runway surface and gain altitude for obstruction clearance. Try riding with your arm out the window, palm down, parrallel to the ground. tilt your thumb up, and your arm gets "sucked" back. To me, I don't feel a major increase in wind on my palm so much as a suction. My vote is for Bernoulli.

3. I don't think we ever got to flight at all in my physics class. We may have been supposed to (we missed a lot, and for excellent reasons), but mostly, we did lenses and resistance and maybe one or two other things. It's been a long time since I've really thought about it, though.

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Planes, well some of them, can fly upside down! So much for Bernoulli.

I remember being taught the Bernoulli principal and being told that it was important to flight. As an avid paper airplane builder I knew there was more to the story.

ETA:

What grade level are we talking about here? My high school physics class never touched flight, just as Gillianren's didn't. It was discussed in earlier general science classes though.

5. Originally Posted by Bearded One
Planes, well some of them, can fly upside down! So much for Bernoulli.
Actually, with the shape of the wings, it doesn't really matter whether they are rightside up or not, because you can still get a "Bernoulli friendly" profile with the right angle of attack while it's upside down

Originally Posted by Bearded One
I remember being taught the Bernoulli principal and being told that it was important to flight. As an avid paper airplane builder I knew there was more to the story.
Same here, but they didn't seem to say "important to" they always seemed to say "only because".
I had always questioned that. Paper airplanes made me suspect it, but they did have a leading edge where the fold was. Where I was more convinced was the rubberband planes with the straight balsa wings.

Originally Posted by Bearded One
What grade level are we talking about here? My high school physics class never touched flight, just as Gillianren's didn't. It was discussed in earlier general science classes though.
In my case, it carried right on through high school in aviation class.

6. Originally Posted by conniefan
An aircraft will eventually fly off the runway with no increase in the pitch angle.
That only happens because an Aircraft has a fixed angle of attack to start with. It would take off eventually, but the runway would be enormous. If the wing had no angle of attack, it would not generate any lift and the Aircraft would not take off.

Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen
RAF_Blackace, I've seen the teaching of incomplete truths in physics (and other subjects) described as lies-to-children.
The idea is that the incomplete description gives the foundation to later learn a more precise description which gives the foundation to later learn a yet more precise description . . ..

At the level your son is now, the purpose of teaching physics isn't to teach specific knowledge, but rather to teach general concepts and that's done by teaching those parts of physics that demonstrate the concept and ignoring the bits that are irrelevant to the concept being taught and therefore would confuse rather than enlighten.
I can see the point, but it is not correct to teach the wrong basic principle to start with. I would certainly not say that deflection of a mass of air is irrelevant to the way a wing flies.

This is a very good description that some Teachers really should read.

http://www.allstar.fiu.edu/AERO/airflylvl3.htm

7. Originally Posted by RAF_Blackace
That only happens because an Aircraft has a fixed angle of attack to start with. It would take off eventually, but the runway would be enormous. If the wing had no angle of attack, it would not generate any lift and the Aircraft would not take off.
If that's the case, why do small airports tie down the planes that are stored outside to keep them from taking off in a windstorm?

8. Originally Posted by tdvance
If that's the case, why do small airports tie down the planes that are stored outside to keep them from taking off in a windstorm?
There's a difference between taking off in flight, and taking off like a beach umbrella in a wind tunnel.

9. Originally Posted by tdvance
If that's the case, why do small airports tie down the planes that are stored outside to keep them from taking off in a windstorm?
Planes have a lot of sail area. It's not so much to keep them from "taking off", but rather to keep them from getting tipped over in a gust or rolling into another plane (or somewhere dangerous) if the brakes slip.

10. Originally Posted by tdvance
If that's the case, why do small airports tie down the planes that are stored outside to keep them from taking off in a windstorm?
Eddies in the space-time continuum.

11. Originally Posted by Ara Pacis
Eddies in the space-time continuum.
He is? I guess that's his plane then.

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Originally Posted by tdvance
If that's the case, why do small airports tie down the planes that are stored outside to keep them from taking off in a windstorm?
Because wind angles of attack vary even in close proximity to the ground.

13. Originally Posted by RAF_Blackace
If the wing had no angle of attack, it would not generate any lift and the Aircraft would not take off.
Not at all true. Many airfoils (specifically those with some level of camber) will happily take off and create lift at zero angle of attack. It depends on the wing shape, although very few aircraft could take off at even a remotely reasonable speed without the addition of some positive angle of attack.

14. Originally Posted by cjl
Not at all true. Many airfoils (specifically those with some level of camber) will happily take off and create lift at zero angle of attack. It depends on the wing shape, although very few aircraft could take off at even a remotely reasonable speed without the addition of some positive angle of attack.
Can you show me a profile of a wing with zero angle of attack that would take off in a reasonable distance ?

15. Yeah, I seem to recall it was taught as Bernoulli, but I learned more about deflection a few months ago when there was a debate about it in a thread here at BAUT.

16. I went to high school out in the sticks in the '60s. Physics wasn't offered as a course; I've always regretted that!

17. In high school, we didn't cover it much at all. In my recent aerodynamics class however (ASEN 2002), we were taught fairly clearly that there was more to it than bernoulli. This is a good site to help explain it fairly well: http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/airplane/right2.html

18. Originally Posted by RAF_Blackace
Having looked around the web there still seems to be a raging debate about this for some reason.
Did you look around BAUT Forum to see what the denizens there have had to say previously on this topic? That should tell you where a lot of members stand.

19. Originally Posted by RAF_Blackace
What were you told at school, and where do you stand on the debate, with Bernoulli or Newton ?
Bernoulli at school-school, both at flying-school. I prefer Newton in my head. For rough calculations I also use the Archimedes principle (which is sort-of Newton).

20. I almost said something in a thread last week (or so), but decided I'd probably just be exposing my ignorance. But this thread brings my question back up.

Technically, isn't moving through air the same as moving through water? Obviously it's much less dense, but a "wing" on, say, a submarine, allows it to navigate underwater. A blade cutting through air would work much in the same way, but to less effect, wouldn't it? Which, if I'm understanding any of this, would indeed seem more to deflection than Bernoulli's Principle.

If so, then on the most basic (Fazor's) level, isn't the key to flight being able to "push off" on a mass of air that's greater than or equal to the mass of the object in flight?

21. Originally Posted by Fazor
Technically, isn't moving through air the same as moving through water? Obviously it's much less dense, but a "wing" on, say, a submarine, allows it to navigate underwater. A blade cutting through air would work much in the same way, but to less effect, wouldn't it? Which, if I'm understanding any of this, would indeed seem more to deflection than Bernoulli's Principle.
There's one very fundamental difference, which is that water is almost entirely incompressible.

22. Originally Posted by Fazor
Technically, isn't moving through air the same as moving through water? Obviously it's much less dense, but a "wing" on, say, a submarine, allows it to navigate underwater. A blade cutting through air would work much in the same way, but to less effect, wouldn't it? Which, if I'm understanding any of this, would indeed seem more to deflection than Bernoulli's Principle.

If so, then on the most basic (Fazor's) level, isn't the key to flight being able to "push off" on a mass of air that's greater than or equal to the mass of the object in flight?
I look at it as technically the same, and it works ok.

It's not exact, but as long as you're nowhere near the speed of sound, it gives you good ballpark figures for lift and drag.

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As for planes flying upside down, the competition aerobatic planes use symmetrical airfoils (close to equal curvature on top and bottom) and depend on the angle of attack to generate lift in either direction. Likewise, with enough power, I've seen airshow pilots fly for considerable distances in knife-edge flight (90 bank angle) with no lift from the wings. Here's a good video that demonstrates knife-edge flight with a model airplane.

You can fly upside down in airplanes with ordinary airfoils but you have to maintain a higher angle of attack. It's harder but anyone who has seen a good old Steerman or Waco flying aerobatics knows it can be done.

Edit: Wow! What happened to my link? The link is corrected now.
Last edited by Larry Jacks; 2009-Jun-18 at 08:02 PM. Reason: Fix bad link

24. Originally Posted by Larry Jacks
Likewise, with enough power, I've seen airshow pilots fly for considerable distances in knife-edge flight (90 bank angle) with no lift from the wings. Here's a good video that demonstrates knife-edge flight with a model airplane.

25. RAF_Blackace, I've seen the teaching of incomplete truths in physics (and other subjects) described as lies-to-children.
The idea is that the incomplete description gives the foundation to later learn a more precise description which gives the foundation to later learn a yet more precise description . . ..

At the level your son is now, the purpose of teaching physics isn't to teach specific knowledge, but rather to teach general concepts and that's done by teaching those parts of physics that demonstrate the concept and ignoring the bits that are irrelevant to the concept being taught and therefore would confuse rather than enlighten.

This only becomes a problem when the teacher isn't honest about the process, since that can result in students who'll remain ignorant the rest of their life because they believe they already know all there is to know about the subject.

26. Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen
RAF_Blackace, I've seen the teaching of incomplete truths in physics (and other subjects) described as lies-to-children.
Sounds a lot like Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen's definition of a teacher: "Liar to children"

27. Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen
The idea is that the incomplete description gives the foundation to later learn a more precise description which gives the foundation to later learn a yet more precise description . . ..
My own intent (if/when I get my hands on a physics class) is to explain the evolution of physical models. (Using inverted bowl -> geocentricism -> heliocentricism -> center of nothing in particular -> and hints of modern cosmology as a backdrop.

"We" teach Newtonian physics rather than Einstein's, because Newton's is plenty good enough for teaching the physics these kids need to know. No model is perfect, but if it works to the precision you need, within the bounds you care about, it's good enough to use. Special relativity is important if you're doing anything aerospace, but way beyond the reward-to-effort ratio for your typical high-school application.

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Originally Posted by Larry Jacks
Likewise, with enough power, I've seen airshow pilots fly for considerable distances in knife-edge flight (90 bank angle) with no lift from the wings. Here's a good video that demonstrates knife-edge flight with a model airplane.

Man, that was wierd. I was viewing this video and copied the link. Somehow, a link I copied earlier today (a very funny video called "The World's Shortest Slasher Flick") was what I ended up posting. My apologies.

29. I'd like to know more about the lies-to-children thing. I recall being present at a science fiction convention, sitting behind (the very likeable) Jack Cohen, who was talking about a book he was writing on that subject.

I am worried about the amount of anti-education going around where science in general and physics in particular is concerned. Astrology, moon hoax and similar rubbish is not being treated with the contempt and hostility it deserves.

30. I'll say this: my 300 pound oak entertainment cabinet1 didn't fly out of the pickup bed because of deflection2. It flew because the hollow opening3 in the back generated lift. That was all Bernoulli's fault.

1: It was lying on its front. The back of the cabinet was exposed to the wind.
2: As soon as the driver hit 120kph, the cabinet flew. It survived with remarkably little damage. Not even the glass chipped, and it fell to the highway and dragged glass side down.
3: The opening is the part out which you stick the pointy end of the CRT television. Most TVs wouldn't fit in the cabinet otherwise.

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