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The Aerodynamics Behind Throwing a Frisbee

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George Calderon

on 2 December 2014

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Transcript of The Aerodynamics Behind Throwing a Frisbee

The Aerodynamics Behind Throwing a Frisbee

-"The lift force on a flying disc doesn’t act on the center of the disc, but towards the front or back" (Benji Heywood). If the lift of a Frisbee is not stable, so then why doesn’t a Frisbee flip over when it’s in the air? The answer is spin. When you throw a frisbee with spin, you provide the necessary stability it needs in the air. "A Frisbee that does not have any spin will flip about its center and quickly fall to the ground" (illumin.usc.edu)

Important Concepts
-Air resistance/Drag
-Lift/Bernoulli's Principle
-Angle of Attack
Angle of Attack
The distance and the direction of a Frisbee when it is thrown will depend on the angle of the attack. An angle of attack is the angle that is formed when the Frisbee is thrown. The angle of attack and the shape of the frisbee rim cause air to speed up over the top of the frisbee.
The Shape of Frisbee
The shape of a Frisbee plays an important role in the ability it has to fly and stay in the air, similar to how the wing shape of birds and airplanes affect their flights. The concave (inside) and convex (outer) shape creates a difference in pressure between the top of the Frisbee and the bottom, which results in its lift.
By: George Calderon
Is the Frisbee Just a Toy?
Throwing a Frisbee is a popular toy that almost everyone has tried at least once. You simply throw the Frisbee until you get it to go the direction or length that you want it. But it is more than just a simple toy. Have you ever stopped to think how it all works? How can you get the Frisbee to stay in the air, why does it fly in so many different directions and why is it so hard to get it to go straight or where you want it to go? In reality, throwing a Frisbee is really complicated.
What is a Frisbee?
Gravity & Air
When you throw a Frisbee there are two main overarching factors that influence its flight path, which are gravity and air. The gravity is the weight that pushes the Frisbee down. (tpt.org). "Gravity acts on all objects the same way, accelerating their mass towards the center of the Earth at 10 meters/second" (tpt.org). Air comes into play with lift, drag and spin. The lift of the Frisbee in the air is produced by flying it at an angle of attack.
1. “Lift is the force that allows the Frisbee to stay airborne, and in flight it opposes the force of gravity on the disk's mass." (scienceamerican.com). The lift or rise of the Frisbee results from the fact that the air that moves on the top of the frisbee is faster than the air moving that is below it. This in turn means that there is lower air pressure on the top of the frisbee then beneath it which also results in the rise (lift).
2. Bernoulli’s principle states that "the pressure in a fluid decreases as the speed of the fluid increases" (web.wellington.org/).
So what does this all mean?
As soon as the Frisbee is thrown in the air it is affected by the gravity/weight, air resistance/drag, speed, lift, and angle of attack. So, when you throw a Frisbee what occurs is that the air passing on the top of the Frisbee moves faster than the air that is below the Frisbee, which in turn lowers the pressure that is on the top of the Frisbee; thus creating the lift to keep the Frisbee in the air. The spin that was put on the throw helps give it stability so it continues on its path and it does not just fall.
Connections between the Parachute Lab and throwing a Frisbee
In the parachute lab we saw the relationship between the diameter of the parachute and the flight time. We found that as the diameter of the parachute increased the falling time also increased, which means that it went slower. This conclusion is true because air resistance depends on the speed of the object as well as the size of the surface. So when there is a larger diameter, more air particles collide with the parachute’s surface, which causes it to slow down. The parachute lab showed us that many different factors affect the flight of an object. For a Frisbee there are many similar factors that affects how high and how long it flies.
Experiment to test the Angle of Release vs Distance Traveled
: In this lab you will investigate how the angle at which you release the Frisbee affects the flight distance.
Experimental Design:
A football field will be the location of the experiment because the measurement lines are already given. This will help us measure the distance traveled. You will start at the end zone, which will be the starting point of 0 yards. There will be a video camera behind you and to the side so that it can record the angle of release of the Frisbee.
Independent Variable:
Angle of Attack
Dependent Variable:
Distance Traveled

What should be held constant?
The arm that is used to throw the Frisbee should be held constant because if you switch the arm you use it can affect the speed and motion you throw the Frisbee. Also, the motion and speed should also be held constant because if you throw it harder or faster than it will affect the distance it travels. The spin has to remain constant because the more spin you put on it the more it will affect the flight path and the distance traveled.
1. Set up the experiment so that you are at a football field.
2. Place a camera behind you so that it can record when you release the Frisbee and then we can go back to get the exact angle of release.
3. The angles that will be measured will be 0*, meaning straight, 15*, 30*, 50*, 75* . You will repeat the experiment to get three trials for every angle.
4. Go to the starting point of 0 yards and hold the Frisbee with the type of grip you will be using throughout the experiment. Throw the Frisbee at 0o meaning your swings straight. Record the distance the Frisbee traveled.
5. Repeat step 4 three times with this angle so you can have three trials.
6. Repeat steps 4-5 so you can throw the Frisbee with the other angles.

Works Cited
Experiment Conclusions
The point of conducting this experiment is to see how different angles affect the distance of the Frisbee. To further this study on factors that affect the flight distance of a Frisbee, we can study the impact of spin, the weight of the Frisbee, the speed/power it is thrown with, etc.
Air Resistance/Drag
Air resistance affects objects by slowing them down. When a Frisbee is moving through the air, some force is created that is trying to stop (resist) the forward movement. For a Frisbee, this force is known as drag. Drag is the force opposite to the movement of the Frisbee and it is what pulls it back and thus slows it down. "The force of drag acts perpendicular to the force of lift.” (sciencebuddies.org). One area that produces drag in the Frisbee would be the rim because it is thicker/heavier than the rest of the Frisbee. This actually helps maintain the stability, and not allow it to flip because the air goes to the rim at the back.
Weight is the effect that is caused by gravity on something that has a mass; it is a force that pulls an object down. So the heavier an object is the faster is will fall to the ground. Weight is counteracted by the lift, because the lift is pushing it upwards. (scientificamerican)
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