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Atmospheric Flight

a view of Earth from space

Grades 5-8 Reading

  1. Introduction
  2. Important Discoveries
  3. Gravity and Atmosphere
  4. Buoyancy
  5. Atmospheric Pressure
  6. Four Forces
  7. Aerodynamic Lift
  8. Propulsion
  9. Trim, Stability and Control
  10. Controlling Motion
  11. Structure
  12. A Word About Packaging
  13. Summing Up Atmospheric Flight


An airplane flying through the sky is a very exciting sight: hearing the roar of the engines as it soars overhead; watching as it rolls and turns across the sky; wondering how it is possible for such a large, heavy object to appear lighter than air. Although there are a lot of things that work together to get an airplane to fly, the most basic element needed is air, specifically, molecules of air. To fly, the airplane must pass through the air. Although the air is not visible, it is made up of millions of tiny molecules that move and push against each other. These particles of air take up space. These molecules have volume. They are also made up of matter so they have mass, too. Air molecules can be squeezed into a tube where they are tightly compressed together. They can also expand and spread out across a wide area. They also have weight. Some molecules actually weigh more than others. For example, scientists discovered some time ago that hydrogen and helium are lightweight gas molecules while nitrogen and carbon dioxide molecules are heavyweights. Because these molecules are made up of matter, have volume and have mass, they can exert a tremendous amount of pressure and force. You can feel the air pushing against you when the wind blows. As you move through a room, you push against the air molecules, moving them around. Knowing that air is not empty space, but actually made up of "stuff" like air molecules, led to some very important discoveries.

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