It’s all Bernoulli to me

I went a comprehensive school with a very weak science department. The end result was that my passion for science was not ignited. The only part that ever captured my attention was Bernoulli. For some reason I was interested in lift and drag. This paid dividends later on when I became a sailing instructor. Bernoulli’s principle makes it possible for sail-powered craft to travel faster than the wind that propels them (if friction can be sufficiently reduced). If the wind passing in front of the sail is fast enough to experience a significant reduction in pressure, the sail is pulled forward, in addition to being pushed from behind. Although boats in water must contend with the friction of the water along the hull, ice sailing and land sailing vehicles can travel faster than the wind.

And then again when I married a pilot. Bernoulli’s Principle can be used to calculate the lift force on an airfoil if you know the behavior of the fluid flow in the vicinity of the foil. For example, if the air flowing past the top surface of an aircraft wing is moving faster than the air flowing past the bottom surface then Bernoulli’s principle implies that the pressure on the surfaces of the wing will be lower above than below. This pressure difference results in an upwards lift force. Whenever the distribution of speed past the top and bottom surfaces of a wing is known, the lift forces can be calculated (to a good approximation) using Bernoulli’s equations – established by Bernoulli over a century before the first man-made wings were used for the purpose of flight. Bernoulli’s principle does not explain why the air flows faster past the top of the wing and slower past the underside.

The marriage between sailing and aviation is a harmonious one bonded by Bernoulli and his principle. Yesterday, we visited the RAF Museum at Hendon and it was a great day out. I love the fact that it is FREE admission. I love that in Britain we encourage learning and access by keeping our museums FREE for the general public. Long may it continue.

It is a superb museum with interactive touch screen information points scattered around. It really does showcase the history of aviation in a interesting and informative way. My favourite exhibit was the Supermarine Southampton. It has been beautifully restored and was a mix of boat and plane crafted in polished wood.

The Southampton flying-boat was one of the most successful ever used by the Royal Air Force. With a reputation for reliability, its service life of eleven years was surpassed only by that of the Sunderland.

By the mid-twenties the RAF was desperate to replace their First World War vintage Felixstowe flying boats and had almost given up the search when R J Mitchell’s development of his civilian Swan design was offered. It proved an immediate success and established not only the name of the designer but that of the company in military circles.

The first eighteen Southamptons delivered were MkIs with wooden hulls. However a lengthy marine research programme had convinced the Royal Air Force of the superior qualities of metal over wood and so the final forty-eight were delivered as Southampton MkIIs with metal hulls. In a programme begun in 1929 all surviving wooden-hulled Southamptons were re-built with metal hulls.

Southamptons first entered service in August 1925 and quickly became famous for long-distance formation flights, ‘showing the flag’ in many parts of the world. The most notable was a 43500km (27000 mile) cruise of the Far East Flight’s four Southamptons from Felixstowe to Singapore via the Mediterranean and India in 1927 and 1928.

The Battle of Britain exhibition is definitely worth a visit and very atmospheric. The highlight for me was the children’s interactive learning section of the museum. Both the kids got stuck in and we had to drag them out. Lots of hands on experiments to demonstrate basic principles of flight. A really good way to capture their attention with science. I wish that I had been inspired by science at school and realised what it had to offer me as an adult. I shall make sure that both my children are not left in the dark like I was. Science is so important.


  1. I am completely lacking in scientific principals as my science teacher at school was big bearded motorcycle riding bully who had no patience for boys who were a little sensitive and didn’t like rugby. Hence I received no encouragement in phsyics and ended up dropping it in favour of the “lighter” sciences, Biology and Chemistry. This may explain why I neither sail nor fly but am a hypochondriac…

    1. That made me chuckle!! My science teacher was called Mr Grimes and when he was younger he was in a band called ‘Open The Window Let Some Fresh Air In’ – It was very distracting because every lesson without fail someone would put their hand up and say ‘Sir, please can I open the window and lets some fresh air in’. It’s not the sole reason for my scientific failings but I would like to think of it as a partial contributor!

  2. I went to a posh girls private school and there was some wierdo with pubic hair on his head teaching chemistry who we called Mr Pubes who always told us he worked in a bread factory for years studying at night so he could achieve ‘his dream’ of teaching adolescent girls about the periodic table. I was kicked out of chemistry for spinning some test tubes around in one of them thingies – whatever they’re called – they flew everywhere and smashed.

  3. Good grief. My husband, the accordion player, LOVES science. We have TiVo on our television. Here is what is on it: Nova, Stephen Hawking, Wormholes, some show about Quantum Physics that I can’t remember the title of,and “House Hunters International.” Guess which show is mine? Oh, and one more. He also is a big fan of “The Three Stooges.” Is this a science lover’s thing, or is it just him? Thanks for visiting my blog! We obviously have NOTHING

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