I was looking at the great site code7700.com, but I don't really understand their explanation of lift and drag. Actually I think they are wrong, and I ask here for confirmation.

This is what they describe as a wing with no induced drag:

enter image description here The so-called infinite wing displaces air for a while, but the air particles return to their original positions along the relative wind. The relative wind experience up wash as it approaches the airfoil and down wash as it leaves the airfoil. But the up wash and down wash are equal so the net effect is cancelled. Because of this, the aerodynamic force occurs perpendicular to the relative wind and their is no induced drag. In other words, all of the aerodynamic force is producing lift, none of it is pulling the wing backwards.


In this description the airstreams return to there initial height after the wing has passed, but lift is created. It seems this is a big confusion. Afaik, the origin of lift is the reaction to the downwash; lift is created because air is deflected by the wing (so in this case AF should be null).

enter image description here

Could someone just confirm that lift is created solely by the downwash and Newton's 3rd law? (Why air is deflected is not part of the question.)

Newton's Laws on Wikipedia.

  • $\begingroup$ In the world of physics everything "just works that way" and anything we call "laws" are just models. Like the earth goes around the sun once a year not because the law of gravity "causing" it that way, but describe it well. Even now I don't think our understanding of physics knows for sure what "causes" gravity. Same thing here. Most people find the pressure-lift model more useful than the downwash-lift model to study an airfoil. Downwahs-lift model works better for a tunneled device like duct fan or jet where you can measure flow mass and flow velocity accurately not pressure distribution. $\endgroup$ – user3528438 Oct 20 '17 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ is the car acceleration created by pushing the road backwards? or by the engine? or maybe by the torque? it all depends on how you want to understand the question $\endgroup$ – szulat Oct 20 '17 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ @user3528438 (and szulat) When you feel the recoil of a gun, you can't tell for sure if the recoil is due to the reaction to the bullet acceleration, according to the 3rd law? Is that what you suggest? $\endgroup$ – mins Oct 20 '17 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ Of course you can model it that way, or you can model it as the chamber pressure pushes the back of the chamber backwards. The choice of the model depends on the purpose. If you study the projectile's ballistics, then pressure model (2nd law) is more convenient. If you study the gun's recoil then the 3rd law's model is more convenient. Sure you can do it the other way but why? $\endgroup$ – user3528438 Oct 20 '17 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ Although they don't directly explain why code7700 is right or wrong here, Dan Hulme and others have good explanations on lift, Newton's law, and oversimplications like this at this question, just in case anyone hasn't read it: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/16193/… $\endgroup$ – Cody P Oct 21 '17 at 0:11

If no downward acceleration occurs, there can be no lift.

However, a wing of infinite span will use an infinite amount of air for lift production, so an infinitely small amount of downward acceleration already suffices to produce lift.

Clearly, this is a thought experiment that cannot realistically be reproduced in reality.

  • $\begingroup$ you have to use lift per length or down wash per length for all calculations or everything goes to infinity $\endgroup$ – user3528438 Oct 20 '17 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ @user3528438: Since the downwash intensity is inversely proportional to the square of wingspan, this does not really help. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Oct 20 '17 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf "However, a wing of infinite span will use an infinite amount of air for lift production, so an infinitely small amount of downward acceleration already suffices to produce lift." A lift of infinite span will have aerodynamic properties in each section exactly equivalent to an airfoil. So, you don't have a downwash at trailing edge because it's of infinite length? That's wrong. You have a downwash at the trailing edge but it's because of the airfoil's circulation and is not the combined downwash of 3D wing induced flow plus airfoil local flow. $\endgroup$ – ares Oct 21 '17 at 21:08
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexandrosK.: No, you misunderstood the question. If you have measurable downwash with infinite span, lift will also be infinite. Here the question is about any lift at all without any downwash. And that cannot happen - an infinitely small amount is needed even for very little lift. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Oct 21 '17 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf Now you're playing with the equation relating wing induced downwash with aspect ratio $AR$ and lift coefficient $C_L$ when I was referring to the cambering of the flow behind the airfoil which is due to the circulation $\Gamma$ (only 2D flow). Check the second figure in my answer below. $\endgroup$ – ares Oct 22 '17 at 2:57

To complete some of the other explanations here, lift is produced (at least the most part, there are other mechanisms by which lift is produced in real aircraft, such as engine mount angle) by downwash. Most if not all phenomenons producing lift can by explained by or can be linked to downwash.

By deflecting air downward, even if the velocity field at infinity is strictly unaffected by the immediate downwash of the wing, it still creates a slight deviation of the airflow close to the wing. This is translated to a pressure field, which combined with Bernouilli's theorem, gives rise to lift.

Basically, pressure lift can be explained by downwash and vice-versa.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, the inclined, lift-producing propeller or jet engine also accelerates air downwards. No need to make an exception - all cases of dynamic lift require downwash to work. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Oct 22 '17 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf Absolutely true. Just didn't cross my mind since we were talking about airfoil downwash, but it's basically the same. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Cedric Oct 22 '17 at 18:18

Sorry but this source is pretty bad. The explanation is clearly wrong. You should download a basics aerodynamic book...

Here's what happen in a finite (real world) wing, the lifting of the wing generates a pressure field which induces vortices running from the lower surface to the upper, these vortices generate the downwash which is explicitly related to induced drag by a simple equation. The strength of the downwash is mainly depended on the lift coefficient and the aspect ratio of the wing, and in the limiting case of infinite wing (which is a theoretical aerodynamic's term) the wing's induced downwash doesn't exist and induced drag is zero.

So, downwash or upwash would depend on the wing geometry and lift, it's lift tha generates the upwash/downwash and also affected by it since it modifies the local angle of attack on each wing's section.

If you're considering the full airplane, the upwash/downwash of wing is also affected by the fuselage near the root.

This picture you posted is very wrong and confusing, because even in 2D flow, you have a cambering of the flow behind the airfoil (of course flow isn't just going flat after trailing edge). The flow then re-alignes with the freestream direction.

enter image description here

This picture. taken by a Stanford's Aerodynamic's lecture course, perfectly answers your questionenter image description here

The Kutta-Jukowski theorem for lift states that lift is proportional to density, freestream velocity and circulation $\Gamma$ by the equation $L=\rho V_{\infty} \Gamma$. For a 2D airfoil the circulation is as depicted in the far upper sketch and will produce an upwash in leading edge region and a downwash in the trailing edge region, then in the second sketch you see the downwash induced by the wing's free vortices. Lastly, you see the combined induced flowfield.

  • $\begingroup$ I explicitly mentioned "why air is deflected is not part of the question" to prevent entering useless debates around the cause of the downwash, I'm interested in the consequence of it as lift. So unless you rewrite it, your post is not an answer. $\endgroup$ – mins Oct 21 '17 at 9:55
  • $\begingroup$ @mins Deflected air changes local angle of attack and hence lift, and the change of lift changes the deflected air, this is strongly coupled. $\endgroup$ – ares Oct 21 '17 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ There are few points pretty unclear (and that seems false in fact). First, there can be lift without downwash-producing wingtip vortices. A 3D wall-to-wall wing (i.e. 3D airfoil) still produces lift, without wingtip vortices. Kutta-Jukowski's circulation is simply be negative on the underside, and positive and bigger on the upper side, which integrated over the airfoil curve gives a non-zero lift (circulation is greater over than under). Basically, lift is created by air downwash. $\endgroup$ – Cedric Oct 22 '17 at 2:35
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexandrosK. I didn't say you said it. I said it is unclear, because given your explanations, one can assume lift is created by vortices and given the image you reference, wingtip vortices are the most apparent thing on it. Moreover, the second referenced image about circulation do tend blend in with your "upwash" explanations. Which is why I wanted to clear this up. $\endgroup$ – Cedric Oct 22 '17 at 2:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Cedric Ok, I hope the second sketch made it clear, by separating 2D and 3D upwash/downwash. Again, just to know, it's not only the wingtip vortices, as you see from figure 1 there is a whole vortex system on the wake. Which is why winglets can suppress only locally the effect of vortices. $\endgroup$ – ares Oct 22 '17 at 3:04

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