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Simplified Principles of Aerodynamics 

For Teaching Young Fliers

Bill Berle


 Jetco Lark :: The classic Jetco Lark by Frank Zaic, giving young builders their first successful flying model for over 60 years!
Every airplane from the 747 airliner to the smallest rubber powered model plane flies the same way. Air moving over the wing creates “lift”, which keeps the plane up in the air. The “tail surfaces” keep the plane going straight, and you control where it goes by making very small adjustments to the rudder or elevator. The “motor” or “engine” (anything from a rubber band to a huge jet engine) pulls the “wings” through the air fast enough for the air moving over them to create the lift. That’s it! Everything else is details.



When air blows over the curved parts of the wing, the wing pushes or throws the air downward, which also creates an opposite force pulling the wing upward. The wing is lifted up, and the rest of the plane goes up with it! For every airplane big or small, there is a certain speed where the wing’s lift is enough to make the plane fly. If it slows down too much, the plane falls down just until it speeds up again. This is called a “stall”.


The wing doesn’t know which way it’s supposed to go, and won’t even stay right side up without help. So just like a bird or a fish, airplanes have fins on the back that make it go straight or wherever you want. They’re called “fins” on a fish, “tail feathers” on a bird, and “tail surfaces” on a plane.  If the rest of the airplane tries to go sideways or flip over, the air blowing on the tail surfaces will steer it back to normal. By bending or moving the vertical part of the tail surfaces (called the “rudder”) you can make the plane turn left or right (just like a fish). Bending or moving the horizontal part of the tail surfaces (the “elevator”) will make the plane go up or down.


On a small model airplane, a big rubber band (the rubber motor) is attached to the propeller on one end, and the back of the plane’s body (called the fuselage) on the other. Just like a boat propeller in the water (or a screw going into a piece of wood), the faster the propeller spins, the faster it pulls the plane through the air. When you wind up the rubber motor and then launch the model, the propeller pulls the airplane through the air fast enough so that the air flows over the wing to lift the plane above the ground. The tail surfaces keep the airplane going straight, or make it fly in a big circle, and keep it from going up or down.


A small rubber powered model airplane can fly very slowly at walking or running speed. A bigger radio controlled model airplane might need 25 to 30 miles per hour of “airspeed” to stay in the air. A small private plane like a Piper Cub or Cessna needs at least 40 to 50 miles per hour to fly. A jet airliner like a 747 needs to speed up to about 150 miles an hour to get off the ground, which is why big airports have “runways” that are two miles long! Some military jet fighters need almost 200 miles per hour of airspeed just to take off… but they can go over 1000 miles per hour!


When you understand how a simple rubber powered model airplane flies, you also understand how a jet airliner or a stealth fighter flies. Most of the greatest pilots, astronauts and airplane designers in the world learned how to build and fly small model airplanes first!