Daniel Bernoulli and the Science of Flight

Most of us take flight for granted as we board airplanes each day and get swept away to our destinations. But flight did not come naturally to humans; it took the skill and dedication of a handful of aviation enthusiasts and dreamers to make flight a reality. It all started with looking towards the skies and studying one of nature’s most gracious creatures, birds.

When famous pilots such as Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh started to make headline news, most people concentrated on their skill and bravery to attempt flights that had only been dreamt of. Few people looked at the airplane and knew that without the skill and genius of scientists and mathematicians, such as Daniel Bernoulli, none of these flights would have been possible. Flight is made possible by four vital factors, namely: thrust, drag, gravity and lift. Propellers or engines create the necessary thrust for airplanes. Drag is caused as the airplane moves forward and air is pushed against the plane, slowing it down. Gravity is the force of the earth that pulls any object heavier than air downwards. Lift is the force that moves against gravity to lift an object off the ground. But it was Bernoulli that perfected the science of flight.

Daniel Bernoulli was born in Switzerland in the year 1700 and became one of the world’s leading mathematicians. After Isaac Newton passed away in 1737, it was up to Bernoulli to uphold Newton’s reputation and prove his theories to be correct. He became known for his genius in regard to hydraulics and hydrostatics, even releasing a book called “Hydrodynamica”. His insight into the mechanics of the body, airflow and water flow, lead him to a discovery that changed the aviation industry forever.

Daniel Bernoulli devised the theory behind what became known as the Bernoulli Effect. The theory is still used today, not only in aviation, but also in the world of auto racing. Bernoulli realized that by curving the top of an airplane’s wing, the force of lift would increase. The Bernoulli Effect is basically the theory that air flows at a much faster rate over the top of the curved wing, than under it. With the faster air rushing over the wing it reduces the air pressure on the top of the wing. The pressure under the wing is therefore greater than on top and this creates greater lift.

By improving the science of flight, Bernoulli contributed greatly to the aviation industry and the luxury of flight we enjoy today. One has to wonder what his reaction would be to see the fighter planes, stealth planes and commercial aircraft that are seen in the skies across the world today.