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Thursday, 2 Feb 2012

How wings really work: Scientist's video busts flying myth

A one-minute video released by the University of Cambridge aims to finally lay to rest a popular but misleading myth about how planes fly.

Decades old and often found in school text books - and even in pilots' manuals - the misleading myth of how wings create lift actually goes against the laws of physics, according to scientists.

"It is often said that the lift on a wing is generated because the flow moving over the top surface has a longer distance to travel and therefore needs to go faster," says Professor Holger Babinsky from the University of Cambridge's Department of Engineering. "This common explanation is actually wrong."

Babinsky is quick to emphasise that he is far from the only aerodynamicist who is frustrated by the perpetuation of the myth: colleagues have in the past expressed their concerns in print and online.

He hopes, however, that his video will help debunk the myth once and for all by providing a quick and visual demonstration to show that the most commonly used explanation cannot possibly be correct.

Published on both the university's website and YouTube, the video uses smoke travelling over a wing to show how air really passes over it, while the voice over attempts to explain in layman's terms why the conventional text book theory only leads to a fundamental misunderstanding of some of the most important principles of aerodynamics.

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