Articles: Angle of Attack and Lift
The angle of the wings on an airplane’s body is very important. Designers have to place the wings at just the right angle to make as much lift as possible. This will make the airplane fly better and use less fuel. The angle that the wing makes against the air flowing toward it is called the angle of attack. The angle of attack for every airplane is different. It depends on the size of the airplane and the speed at which it flies.
Play the movie below for an illustration of the relationship between lift and angle of attack.
The amount of lift an airplane makes depends on the angle of attack of the wings. The greater the angle, the more air flows over and under the wings. This makes more lift. However, increasing the angle only works up to a certain point. If the angle is too big, the airflow cannot flow smoothly over the upper sides of the wings.
You can see the angle of attack working when you throw a paper airplane. If you throw the paper airplane upward at an angle, it flies farther than if you throw it straight ahead.
If you throw the paper airplane straight up, the angle of attack is
too big. This causes the airflow to spread out away from the surface
of the wings. The end result is that the amount of lift will decrease
and the airplane won’t fly properly.
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Editor: Brian Day
NASA Official: Liza Coe
Last Updated: September 2005
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