Every so often I think to myself “shit how does that work?” Maybe I’m just dumb. Maybe you all have had the same thoughts. Whatever it is, I thought I’d share some of these wonders I’ve had.
The first thing that came to mind when I thought about things I don’t get was airplanes. I genuinely don’t understand how they work. Here’s a little story for you actually: Last year I was visiting my sister and her husband in the Bay Area. We were on the Bart going back to their place after they picked me up from the airport and I said “you know what? I just don’t get how planes work. They’re so heavy, how do they get off the ground and how do they stay off the ground?” My brother-in-law who is a scientist was trying to explain it to me and I wasn’t getting it and continued asking what he probably viewed as stupid questions. That’s when this bystander intervened and said “well my dad was one of the engineers of the Air Force M700 Fighter Jet 2000.” (I don’t really remember what it was called, it was just something with a lot of military names and numbers) He explained to me the whole lift and drag thing that everyone who I’ve ever asked about planes tells me. I gave him the old “oh yeah okay now that makes sense!” so that A.) I wasn’t rude because it was nice of this guy to try and help me learn and B.) I didn’t appear to be even more of a dumbass for still not understanding how planes work. The reality though was that I still did not understand how planes work.
I get that the wings are created in a way so that when the plane goes really fast the aircraft will lift off the ground and I get that the fuel helps the plane go really fast so that it will lift. However, here is my biggest barrier in comprehending planes: how the fuck do they stay in the air?
Planes are fucking heavy. How can something that heavy stay miles upon miles up in the sky for sometimes 20 hours? When I brought up this point to my brother-in-law he said it’s “lift and drag” and to “think about putting your hand out of the window of a car” and equated it to the wind blowing on both sides of your hand, thus making it “float” in a way.
I kind of get that, but then why do planes need fuel other than to get off the ground? Do they use fuel when they are in the air? The other thing too is that when I stick my hand out the window, I can easily push my hand to the side of the car. Let’s say my hand and arm is like 15 pounds (I literally have no idea if that’s even remotely close to accurate, by the way) and we are going 45 miles per hour. It takes little-to-no effort for me to put my hand down. Well a fucking commercial airplane can weigh over a million pounds, but only go a maximum speed of 545 miles per hour. My hand is at about 0.3 pounds per mph while a plane is approximately 1,835 pounds per miles per hour. How does it stay in the air? Basically what I am saying is that my hand is much lighter compared to the speed the car is going. I have no idea if that makes sense to anyone else, but it does to me and maybe that’s the problem.
Alright so let’s assume planes do use fuel while they are in the air. Does the fuel power them along the air like it does to a car on the ground? If there was no fuel in plane would it just drop? Like does the plane go really fast, lift because of both fuel and the lift and drag thing and then once it gets to the right height, the fuel keeps it going? Is that it? Did I just figure it out? I think I did.
Tune in next time when I try to figure out water.