How Newton's 3rd Law Gets Us off the Ground

Explore Newton’s Third Law with Future NASA Aeronautics concepts

By NASA

Advanced Air MobilityNASA

Forces come in pairs. Newton’s 3rd Law says for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. An aircraft is a perfect real-world example of force pairs. 

NASA Releases Concept Images of All-Electric X-57 in Final ConfigurationNASA

Even sitting on the ground, the plane exerts a force down on the ground and the ground exerts an equal force back up on the plane. 

NASA's Super Guppy Transport cargo airplane takes off from the runwayNASA

Weight

Weight is the force generated by the mass of the Earth pulling on an object. As the Earth exerts a force on NASA’s Super Guppy, the airplane exerts an equal and opposite force on the Earth. 

Drag Demo by NASA / Eric JamesNASA

Drag

Drag is an aerodynamic force generated by the resistance of a body moving through a fluid (liquid or gas).

X-59 QueSSTNASA

Thrust

Jets push exhaust out the back of the engine, and thrust is produced in the opposite direction. Thrust must be greater than or equal to drag in order for the plane to move forward.

Visualization of the flow of NASA’s modified design of a complete DJI Phantom 3 quadcopter configuration in hover. by Patricia Ventura Diaz, NASA/AmesNASA

Thrust

This quadcopter’s rotary blades produce enough reaction to thrust the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) off the ground. This vertical takeoff is referred to as EVTOL. 

Illustration of a hybrid wing airplane with winds that blend into the body of the aircraftNASA

Lift

Lift from an airfoil: the air is pushed down by the airfoil’s action, and the wing is pushed up. Lift must meet or exceed the weight of the object to fly. 

A Pilot in the cockpit of an aircraft at high altitudeNASA

Newton's 3rd Law

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Read more about Newton’s 3rd Law on https://www.nasa.gov/stem/nextgenstem/aeronaut-x/index.html

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