SCIENCE

Just What Keeps An Airplane Up In The Air, Anyway?

04/14/2015 04:59 pm ET | Updated Apr 15, 2015

Nope, it isn't magic, and the pilot isn't wildly flapping her arms up and down. Thankfully, the physics that keeps an airplane aloft is a bit more down to earth.

In simple terms, planes are held aloft by lift, the force generated when air flows over and under an airplane wing simultaneously. Air travels faster over the curved top of the wing than below it. That reduces air pressure on the wing from above. Voilà! Lift! (Though admittedly it's a bit more complicated than that.)

As long as the plane moves forward through the air, propelled by jet engines or propellors, this lift-generating principle applies. If the forward motion falters... well, as NASA puts, "No motion, no lift."

Need a visual? We don't blame you. Check out the MinutePhysics video above for a primer (and animation) covering the physics of flight.

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