Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Paula. Paula Wonders, “What makes a Frisbee fly? ” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Paula!
What’s that? Up there in the sky! Is it a bird? A plane? A flying saucer? Nope! Well…kind of! It’s not an unidentified flying object, also known as a UFO. In fact, it’s an identified flying object, which would make it an IFO! What are we talking about? The Frisbee, of course!
Have you ever been on a picnic or played at the beach? If so, you’ve most likely played with a Frisbee at some point in your life. If you’re like many kids, the Frisbee may be one of your favorite toys to play with.
And it‘s easy to see why! With a simple flick of the wrist, you can send the plastic disc flying through the air in a wide arc. It’s a fun and simple game to play with a friend…or even man’s best friend. That’s right! Even dogs can learn how to catch a Frisbee!
How do Frisbees fly so gracefully through the air? Are they powered by invisible fairy wings? After all, you won’t get the same result if you try tossing one of your mom’s nice dinner plates to a friend!
There’s no magic powering the Frisbee. It’s pure science. In fact, you might already be familiar with the primary forces responsible for a Frisbee’s flight. But first, let’s look back at the Frisbee’s humble beginnings.
Way back in 1871, college students would toss empty pie tins back and forth. These tins were made by the Frisbie Pie Company, and the students shouted “Frisbie!” as they threw them. In 1948, Walter Frederick Morrison and Warren Franscioni invented a plastic disc that would fly better than empty pie tins.
They called it the “Flying Saucer.” Morrison eventually sold an improved version of the disc to Wham-O in 1955. Originally marketed as the “Pluto Platter,” Wham-O released their version of this flying disc in 1957. The name was changed to Frisbee a year later, although the company misspelled the name of the original pie company.
Frisbees fly so through the air thanks to their shape and ability to rotate. When you flick your wrist to send a Frisbee flying to a friend, you start the Frisbee spinning rapidly. It acts like a gyroscope, building angular momentum in the process.
Angular momentum gives a Frisbee stability in flight. It’s also what allows a Frisbee to stay in the air so long and travel long distances.
But why does a Frisbee fly at all? As noted earlier, you’re not going to get the same results if you toss your dinner plate like a Frisbee toward the sink. (We don’t recommend trying that at home!)
The curved top surface of a Frisbee creates lift when it’s thrown. Frisbees are shaped a bit like an airplane’s wing. They’re wider in the middle and thinner toward the edges. This helps air travel more quickly above a Frisbee than below it. This creates lower air pressure above the Frisbee. The higher air pressure below the Frisbee pushes it upward, creating lift and allowing it to fly through the air. This is much like the way airplanes fly!
If you don’t believe the Frisbee’s shape has anything to do with its ability to fly, you can test your hypothesis for yourself. Simply flip the Frisbee upside down and give it a toss. You’ll see vastly different results!
Standards: NGSS.PS2.A, NGSS.PS2.C, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.RL.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1