So, how do you fly a boomerang? It’s all in the way you tilt your head. Nah! Just joking.
These interesting Australian icons are one of their most unique and distinctive emblems. In regard to flying them, you’d think it had everything to do with the curve of the boomerang wouldn’t you? But the surface shape of a boomerangs arm is very important too. This fact is less well known but of course indigenous Australians have known this secret since they began making them.
They were developed by the First Nation peoples of Australia. The extraordinary flight of the boomerang was explained correctly by an anonymous author in a Dublin University Magazine way back in 1838.
For quite some time, even scientists were perplexed about the flight of the boomerang and popular literature contained many unproven theories. Misconceptions lingered regarding the effectiveness the performance, contributing it to the twist of its arms. People settled for this explanation because they understood the workings of a propeller. But a boomerang doesn't work like a propeller.
Finally, during the 1970’s a complete mathematical model was created which has given scholars and the public in general, more accurate information. This however, hasn’t made explaining how to use boomerangs any easier. Probably one of the best explanations was achieved by the Dutch scientist, Felix Hess in 1975 when he wrote, Boomerang, Aerodynamics and Motion.
Four factors make the boomerang what it is. Its convex top surface, thin body and wide surface and its very distinctive curve. All of which are essential in providing the boomerange’s aerodynamic properties and added together, makes the boomerang a rare example of a non-ballistic missile.
Most missiles, such as throwing clubs, spears or stones, are ballistic. Then you can add arrows, mortars, artillery shells and a wide range of rockets to this list. For example; they travel in an upwards arc and then come down again. So basically, ballistic missiles must be thrust upwards, travelling in a vertically curved path.
When a spear gets thrown to the ground, gravity assists its descent. The time allowed for its flight on a parallel path is roughly equivalent to the time needed for its free fall, as if dropped. So, if not for its ballistic path, the spear would barely stay more than two seconds in the air, not nearly enough to travel, as it does, about seventy metres. By contrast, boomerangs fly roughly parallel to the ground and as long as they maintain sufficient speed and rotation, they can resist the force of gravity.
There are a few minor technical aspects which increase these self-supporting abilities. Again, aeroplane wings provide us with a useful analogy. The large surface area in relation to the boomerang's mass gives it a greater capacity to stay in the air. For this reason the best flying boomerangs tend to be small, thin and light, but also broad, creating a large surface area. In much the same way, modern aeroplanes unfold their wings to make the largest surface area possible, so they achieve a speedy takeoff.
When the wings are tilted slightly upwards, this increases a boomerangs flying ability. This is made possible due to a small twist on the surface which enables the leading edge to be a little above the trailing edge. As explained. The twist is not vital for the successful flight of a boomerang but it does enhance the performance. This concept is the same for aeroplanes in order to increase its aerodynamic abilities.
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