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Upside-Down Airplanes

March 24, 2009

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


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.

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.