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The principle of jet propulsion can be illustrated by a toy balloon. When inflated and the stem is sealed, the pressure is exerted equally on all internal surfaces. Since the force of this internal pressure is balanced there will be no tendency for the balloon to move.

Pressure Equal On All Sides

If the stem is released the balloon will move in a direction away from the escaping jet of air. Although the flight of the balloon may appear erratic, it is at all times moving in a direction away from the open stem.

Internal Pressure higher On This Side

The balloon moves because of an unbalanced condition existing within it. The jet of air does not have to push against the outside atmosphere; it would function better in a vacuum. When the stem area of the balloon is released, a convergent nozzle is created. As the air flows through this area, velocity is increased accompanied by a decrease in air pressure. In addition, an area of skin against which the internal forces had been pushing is removed. On the opposite internal surface of the balloon, an equal area of skin still remains. The higher internal pressure acting on this area moves the balloon in a direction away from the open stem. The flight of the balloon will be of short duration, though, because the air in the balloon is soon gone. If a source of pressurized air were provided, it would be possible to sustain flight of the balloon.


David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015