Sunday, May 17, 2009

Adapting to Change

ChangeWhen I was a kid, my grandparents had a little trailer in Kitty Hawk, NC, which had a huge impact on my interests as a child. In case you didn't know, Kitty Hawk is the location of man's first powered aircraft flight, in December 1903. (Does it seem only fitting that I would be born 80 years later?) Now there is a local museum and a monument erected for tourists to visit. And since we'd visit the beach every summer, it wasn't really out of the way! The track that the brothers used to run their Flyer on before it lifted off was still there to see. The museum even had a wind tunnel to explain how the brothers figured out the "science" of flight and wing warping. The picture above is the Wright brothers flying their Flyer at Kitty Hawk, which is the windiest place in the country (and why they chose that site.)

Do they not see the birds held (flying) in the midst of the sky? None holds them but Allah [none gave them the ability to fly but Allah]. Verily, in this are clear proofs and signs for people who believe (in the Oneness of Allah). 16:79

Some people might take the wrong meaning from this ayah, perhaps, and find it contradictory to the science of flight. But when I read it the first time, as someone who had studied aerodynamics (my original major at college was aerospace engineering) and even piloted a small aircraft, I found it to be an amazing description of flight, and even more amazing of gliding--when you see birds circling around in the air without flapping their wings or anything. Without even powering themselves, they just float along on air that is rising--because hot air rises. So a bird can glide by drifting along air that's rising. And none holds them but Allah. Allah who made the air, controls the sky (including the flow of air)air, and who made the birds to find and use those drafts.

AirfoilFor the uninitiated, flight of airplanes basically works by putting a shape called an airfoil into a stream of air. The airfoil is the cross-section of a wing, by the way. If you start to angle the airfoil upwards, then an area of low pressure appears above it, with an area of high pressure appearing below it. That's what causes the airfoil to rise. This is an easy concept to experiment with--hold your hand out of the car while driving. You can hold your hand straight, and parallel to the ground, then start to angle it upwards.

And then, try curving your hand slightly, and notice the increased effect of the pressure change. I.e., there's more pressure building in the curve of your hand, pushing your hand up. That's "wing warping." If you ever get the chance, observe the shape of a bird's wing, how it is curved slightly underneath.

The other thing that the Wright Brothers were able to do was power their glider, to make it actually fly instead of just glide, and they did that by using propellers (which were known for use under water, on ships) that were adapted for the air, to basically propel the aircraft forward. The motion of the aircraft caused the wings to be moving through the air, and then the buildup of pressure below the wing with a pressure drop above the wing, which allowed the aircraft to take flight.

A century later, I sat in the pilot's seat of a small aircraft using pretty much the same technology--albeit of different materials. A propeller was driving the aircraft forward, and the wings of the craft had pieces on the wings used to effectively "warp" them by changing their shape (or the way air flows over.)

What made me want to use this photograph for this quote is knowing that it must take some serious guts to get up on a fragile piece of wood and fabric that is supposed to all on its own lift off from the ground. If you're the pilot, you can't go up being afraid of failing, even though you don't exactly have flight experience to count on. You have to try it out, and when you come down...? Then you're a pilot!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice post! You should visit the Boeing Museum in Seattle :-)