Many people who feel anxious about flying worry that “air pockets” exist and cause turbulence by leaving spaces in the sky where airplanes somehow run out of air to fly on.
However, none of that is true; the sky is entirely full of air and there are no places where the air is somehow absent. What is true is that the air moves along currents: Warm air tends to move upwards and cold air tends to move downwards. Some of the bouncing that we experience as turbulence occurs as an aircraft slices through air currents of different temperatures. There is always air present and it’s the shape of the wings that allows airplanes to remain aloft. In fact, for the comfort of passengers most commercial aircraft have wings that are designed to keep them flying straight and level.
In 1783, a Swiss mathematician and physicist named Daniel Bernoulli realized that as fluids (or streams of air) move along a given path, the amount and location of pressure differs depending on the length and shape of that path. More modern scientists used that knowledge to design aircraft wings using a teardrop shape. Stated simply, that shape causes air to move over the top surface of the wing faster than over the bottom, creating a situation of high pressure underneath and low pressure above. The result is the force of ‘lift’ that keeps us up. If you’re interested, this brief video gives a nice explanation of the theory behind how lift happens.
But if you really want to see lift in action, take a look at this very cool video of a 747 lifting off the ground without any forward movement! You can see that it’s just parked in an airplane graveyard, amidst the broken and rusting hulks of other aircraft that have been left there to rot. Its engines have been removed and, presumably no one is on board controlling it, yet, the speed of the wind and the shape of the wings make the front end lift off the ground and stay in the air.
As long as air is moving over the wings of an aircraft, that aircraft will want to stay up and be stable.
Fear of Flying Courses in the Toronto Area. www.afraidtofly.ca