No One Knows Exactly How Planes Fly

April 30, 2021

The year was 2021, and we still didn’t know precisely how planes stay in the air. The first Wright Brothers flight was in 1903, and 118 years later, we are still theorizing and testing exactly how aviation works. 

Did you know that? There is no scientific consensus on how the mechanics of flight actually operate! 

Scientists have two primary but incomplete explanations of flight: Bernoulli’s Theorem and Newton’s Third Law. Neither one is said to explain the forces at work in flight thoroughly. 

If you fear flying, this may not be welcome news. I find it comforting – at least from the ground. 

According to the Bureau of Transportation, over 848 million passengers travel via airplane every year. Yet, you only have a 1 in 11 million chance of dying from air travel compared with a 1 in 103 chance of dying in a motor vehicle. It is one of the safest forms of travel, and still, there is this overwhelming mystery. 

My comfort is philosophical because it means you don’t have to know everything to make something valuable. We have had 118 years to nail down how flight works but are still learning about it. In that time, we have developed jet engines, supersonic jets, and giant metal beasts that can transport up to 853 people at once. 

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We often tell ourselves that we aren’t ready to start our new business, design that new product, or contribute in a space dominated by experts. But what if you don’t need to know everything to start something worthwhile? 

If we waited to understand all the principles of aerodynamics before flying people, we still wouldn’t have air travel. 

Jump in a soon as you can. Complete domain expertise may be 118+ years away, don’t let that stop you from starting! 

Further reading:
STAYING ALOFT; What Does Keep Them Up There? – 2003
There’s No One Way to Explain How Flying Works – 2018
No One Can Explain Why Planes Stay in the Air – 2020