Flight of the Frisbee

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Spinning objects such as Frisbees possess unique flying characteristics. They are in essence spinning wings gliding in mid-air propelled by the forces of torque and aerodynamic lift. The relationship between Newton’s Laws of Motion and the flight of the Frisbee will be discussed. This paper will attempt to highlight and show the different physical motions involved behind the spinning edge of the Frisbee and the similar forces it shares with other heavier winged objects. Lastly, how major improvements in the redesign of the Frisbee contributed to its increased stability and precision in its flight in the air.

The Flight of the Frisbee
Objects that fly are designed to push air down. The momentum of the air going down is what causes Frisbees or winged objects to travel skyward. This type of force acting on a flying disk is typically known as the “aerodynamic lift” (Bloomfield, 1999, p. 132). Consider a flying kite, which in essence is also a winged object. When a kite’s flat bottom surfaces are angled into the wind, air gets pushed down and the kite glides upward. Kites must rely on the wind to keep it suspended in mid-air, while flying birds and insects utilize their muscular flapping motions to maintain their flight in motion. Airplanes rely on spinning propellers and turbine fans to provide adequate momentum for take off from the runway. With flying Frisbees, that momentum is generated primarily by the tossing power of the human arm and wrist motion. The Frisbee’s course of flight is “directly related to the torque or twist force” applied by the individual throwing the flying disk (Fisher & Phillips, 2003, p. 12).
To narrow down more on the details involved in the flight of the Frisbee, there are four fundamental forces that affect a flying Frisbee: lift, weight, thrust, and drag. Aerodynamic lift acting on the Frisbee is considered a positive force, and happens when “the Frisbee pushes down on the air, the air pushes upward on the Frisbee” (Bloomfield, 1999, p. 132). This in turn causes the air pressure under the disk to be higher than the air pressure over the top of the disk, thereby creating the effect of an upward air vacuum. In order for a Frisbee to fly straight and stay in the air, its center of aerodynamic lift must remain near its center of gravity over a wide range of airspeeds and angles of attack.
Thrust is the oth...

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...the plane of the disk. A sharp ridge at the upper edge separates the airflow at the leading edge. These ridges act as spoilers to create turbulent airflow, which confines the center of lift to the center of the disk. The result is an aerial disk that flies better and farther than the Frisbee.
In conclusion, the Frisbee is an effective studying tool for introducing and examining the basic principles involved in the mechanics of flying winged objects. Newton’s Laws of Motion is reiterated throughout its design processes, while its application can be closely observed in its real three-dimensional form.

Ashley, S. (1995, August). Flying farther than a Frisbee. Sports Technology for Air, Land, and Tee, 89-90. Retrieved October 20, 2004, from InfoTrac database.
Bloomfield, L. A. (1999, April). The flight of the Frisbee. Scientific American, 280, 132-133. Retrieved October 20, 2004, from EBSCOhost database.
Fisher, D., & Phillips, T. (2003, April). Launch a Frisbee into orbit. The Technology Teacher, 10-15. Retrieved October 20, 2004, from InfoTrac database.
Nye, B. (2001, July 1). The flight of the Frisbee. Time, 52. Retrieved October 20, 2004, from InfoTrac database.

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