Thursday, March 23, 2006

Of Paddles and Planes.

Well, I think it's about time to get back to those planes I showed you the other day!

Airplane -
NOUN: Any of various winged vehicles capable of flight, generally heavier than air and driven by jet engines or propellers. of various winged vehicles capable of flight, generally heavier than air and driven by jet engines or propellers

Various indeed!

Here are my planes, once again - this time with a bit more of an introduction. Look at the wings! The thing I wanted to point out here was the designs of the wings - the different way that air behaves as it moves over the various wing shapes gives each plane some very specific flight characteristics.

My first plane is an F-16. This plane has relatively short little wings which are swept & they have what airplane people call a "low aspect ratio" (at the risk of oversimplifying to the point that makes the airplane people hate me because it's not quite right, think relatively short leading edge of the wing compared with the overall area of the wing). The way air moves over a wing shaped like this allows this plane to be extremely fast & manueverable, although at the cost of efficiency (gas mileage? ha!).

My third plane (I'm taking them out of order to go from one extreme to the other) is the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer - I had actually meant to find a picture of Voyager, the plane in which Dick Rutan and Jeana Yaeger completed the first ever non-stop no-refuel flight around the globe, but I got the names mixed up. The Global Flyer is fine as an example of the opposite extreme from Plane #1 - long, straight , slender wings, rather like a glider. This plane will never break the sound barrier, and in an aerobatic competition the F-16 is literally going to be able to fly rings around this one - but what those high-aspect-ratio wings do is generate an enormous amount of lift, with the least possible drag - incredibly efficient (think about how long a glider can stay aloft with no fuel at all, once the towplane lets it go). The F-16 is going to run out of gas when the Global Flyer has barely begun to fly. You see those same kind of wings in nature on albatrosses - they may look goony on takeoffs & landing but once they're up there they just float.

My middle plane, then, is the 747 jumbo jet - balancing speed, manueverability and range by a wing design midway between the two high-performance extremes, resulting in a reliable workhorse of a jet.

The whole point of all of this, though, is pretty straightforward - what I wanted to show in these three types of aircraft, each well designed for the task it's designers meant it to do, was an example of human ability to take a certain piece of technology & adapt it in ways that maximize one performance characteristic or another, based on the job to be done. I picked airplanes - I could have picked skis, or saddles, or anchors, or houses, but I guess that somehow I see a lot of connections between the various ways that we move boats through water and the various ways that aircraft move through the air (after all, it's no coincidence that airplanes use the same port & starboard lights as boats) -- particularly after a couple of days with Nigel Foster got my head all stuffed with words like turbulence, laminar flow, and pressure differentials...hydrodynamics, aerodynamics...they seem to flow together (pun entirely intentional & I do apologize).

at any rate, now it's time to bring this post home to paddling --

or more specifically, paddles!

A much older technology than planes, but just like airplane wings, a technology that's been adapted in many, many ways to provide different performance characteristics tailored to different desired results - whether those results involve hunting seals, or hunting gold medals.

So here we go again:

Paddle (relevant definition only)
NOUN: 1. A usually wooden implement having a blade at one end or sometimes at both ends, used without an oarlock to propel a canoe or small boat.

This is a paddle:

This is also a paddle:

This is also a paddle:

And although I do mean to continue following this meandering train of thought, I think this is enough for one night & one post!

I'll close with a few links (careful, I could have read these for HOURS...)

If you want to read more about airplane wing aspect ratios, Wikipedia's got a great article - whoever their contributers were, they manage to describe the physics in terms that a person who's never taken a physics class in her life (i.e., me) could understand - that's the one where I really think I could've followed the links all day, from swept wings to the v-formation of migratory birds (they're drafting...) and so on and so forth - anyways, the article's here, don't say I didn't warn you. I do recommend the swept-wing link, that and the aspect ratio page actually let me write this post with a little more confidence - I had the general idea but reading those I was actually picturing airflow & for about 2 seconds I actually got it.

If you want to read more about these long-distance record making & breaking airplanes, the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer site is here, and you can read about Voyager and the original first non-stop non-refueled flight 'round the world at

and if this whole aeronautical side trip is weirding you out, don't worry, my next post will be (er, at least if I don't get distracted) about my first lesson (taught by Turner Wilson) on how to actually PADDLE with a Greenland paddle!

Paddle images shamelessly lifted from, Rutabaga, and - plus a really good intro to the wing paddle, with excellent diagrams, by Olympic gold medalist Greg Barton, can be found here - found it while looking for images (truth is, this has been sitting in drafts for a couple of days waiting for paddle pictures - I'd hoped to go to the barge after work & just take pictures of my own, I have at least one of each variety, but it's budget season & there ended up being a ton of work to do tonight, didn't escape 'til after nine, by which time I just wanted to come home...)

Definitions from

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