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Engineering: Using Newton's Laws of Motion

Author(s): Gregory L. Vogt, EdD, Barbara Z. Tharp, MS, Michael T. Vu, MS, and Nancy P. Moreno, PhD.

Lift and Air Speed

The forces influencing the flight of a boomerang are similar to the gyroscopic effect that keeps a bicycle upright and stable. To turn a bike, the rider merely tilts to one side or the other. This puts a sideways force on the spinning wheels, causing them to turn in the direction of the rider’s lean.

The leaning force on the boomerang is caused by an imbalance in lift between the top and bottom wings as they spin forward through the air. The top wing moves against the airflow and produces a strong sideways lift. Simultaneously, the lower wing moves in the same direction as the airflow, which produces a weaker sideways lift. 

The difference in lifting forces causes the boomerang to lean sideways. As with a bicycle wheel, the gyroscopic effect of the boomerang lean causes the boomerang to turn in a circle and return to the thrower.

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Funded by the following grant(s)

National Science Foundation

Grant Number: DRL-1028771