Show Details

Upside-Down Airplanes

March 24, 2009

The shape of the wing is what allows a plane to fly upside down.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
The wind beneath an airplane’s wings…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Listener Bernard Bromberg of Chicago, Illinois, called with this Why Is It question: he wants to know how some airplanes can fly upside-down. We consulted Sean Jeralds, associate dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. He explains that the shape of the wing is what gives a plane lift. Its curvature makes the air move faster over the top, which lowers the pressure. Higher air pressure beneath the wing then pushes it upward.

JERALDS (Embry-Riddle):
The airplanes that are built to fly upside down, they have a thing called a symmetrical airfoil, so the curve of the wing is the same on the top as it is on the bottom.

HIRSHON:
Jeralds says even planes that don’t have a symmetrical airfoil can fly upside down – just not as efficiently. If you’ve got a science question, call us at 1-800-WHY-ISIT. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.