Sunday, June 24, 2018


It's called Bernoulli's Principle. It is the thing that keeps airplanes in the air. Airplanes as big as a C-130, or a 787. Eighteenth century Swiss physicist Daniel Bernoulli gets to have his name attached to a phenomena that exists in nature because he was the first one to describe it to everyone in a way we could label a principle. Daniel figured out that curving the top of a surface allows air to pass under it more easily, causing that surface to lift. Like an airplane wing, or your hand held outside a car window when your fingers are pointed directly into the wind. This is known in my world as the Superman principle in my world. More often than not, when you see the Man of Steel speeding through the air, you notice that he holds his hands in front of him, palms down. Never mind that this is a being who is dense enough for bullets to bounce off of him, but gaining proper speed and maintaining that position allows him to fly. And that he seems to also favor a closed-fist technique almost as often, it's a comic book after all.
This is the kind of musing that keeps me working toward a window seat when it comes time to pick. I have complete faith in Mister Bernoulli's discovery, but I confess that even after decades of personal experience and experimentation, I am fascinated by the way we routinely toss great cylinders of metal into the skies and bring them back down again. It's that getting back down thing that continues to puzzle me.
Not because of the physics, exactly, but rather because of those moments when all that science and math disappoints. I am the lucky recipient of a National Transportation Safety Board report describing just how wrong things can go. My father was on the receiving end of one of these failures of physics. To be fair to Bernoulli and his principle, the airplane wings worked quite well on the flight he and his friend were taking back from California in a small plane all those years ago. A whole lot of air went underneath them in order to get them within yards of their destination. It was the landing part of the equation that wasn't fully realized. This is the part of flying that will forever fascinate me, as it has for countless humans who made the absurd assumption that if they got up high enough, they could experience flight since falling through the air is a lot like flying. For a little while. Which makes me think that the gods controlling such matters must mutter to themselves every time a human tries to imitate a bird. Icarus found out the hard way. And when I complain that my flight has been delayed for any reason, I remind myself that this is still a pretty inexact science and I should appreciate every time we get it right start to finish.

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