Is Air Resistance a Force?

Yes, air resistance is indeed a force. It is also known as drag force and is a type of resistive force that acts on an object moving through a fluid, such as air. The force of air resistance opposes the motion of the object and depends on various factors, including the shape and size of the object, its speed, and the density of the fluid.

Theorem and Physics Formula

The theorem that governs the force of air resistance is Newton’s second law of motion, which states that the force acting on an object is equal to the mass of the object multiplied by its acceleration. In the case of air resistance, the formula is:

F = 1/2 * ρ * A * Cd * v^2


  • F is the force of air resistance
  • ρ (rho) is the density of the fluid (in this case, air)
  • A is the cross-sectional area of the object
  • Cd is the drag coefficient, which depends on the shape and surface roughness of the object
  • v is the velocity of the object

The drag coefficient, Cd, is a dimensionless quantity that represents the object’s resistance to motion through a fluid. It is influenced by the object’s shape, surface roughness, and orientation relative to the fluid flow. Streamlined objects typically have lower drag coefficients, while blunt or irregular shapes have higher drag coefficients.

Physics Examples

is air resistance a force

A classic example of air resistance is the motion of a skydiver. As the skydiver falls towards the ground, the force of air resistance increases with their speed, eventually becoming strong enough to balance their weight and causing them to reach a constant terminal velocity.

Another example is the motion of a car or an aircraft. The force of air resistance increases with the speed of the vehicle, affecting its fuel efficiency and maximum speed. High-speed vehicles, such as Formula 1 cars or fighter jets, are designed with aerodynamic shapes to minimize air resistance and improve performance.

Physics Numerical Problems

Consider an object with a cross-sectional area of 0.1 m^2 and a drag coefficient of 0.5, moving through air with a density of 1.2 kg/m^3 at a speed of 10 m/s. The force of air resistance can be calculated as:

F = 1/2 * 1.2 kg/m^3 * 0.1 m^2 * 0.5 * (10 m/s)^2 = 6 N

This means that the object experiences a force of 6 newtons (N) due to air resistance at a speed of 10 m/s.

Figures, Data Points, Values, and Measurements

The force of air resistance increases with the square of the velocity, as shown in the figure below. The data points represent the force of air resistance measured at different velocities for a spherical object with a diameter of 0.1 m moving through air with a density of 1.2 kg/m^3.

Air Resistance Force vs. Velocity

The graph clearly demonstrates the quadratic relationship between air resistance force and velocity, as predicted by the formula. At higher velocities, the air resistance force increases significantly, which is an important consideration in the design and performance of high-speed vehicles and aircraft.

Practical Applications and Implications

The understanding of air resistance as a force has numerous practical applications in various fields, including:

  1. Aerodynamics and Fluid Dynamics: Air resistance is a critical factor in the design of aircraft, cars, and other high-speed vehicles. Optimizing the shape and surface characteristics of these objects can significantly reduce air resistance and improve their performance, efficiency, and fuel economy.

  2. Sports and Athletics: Air resistance plays a crucial role in the motion of sports equipment, such as balls, projectiles, and even athletes themselves. Understanding and accounting for air resistance is essential for accurate trajectory predictions and the design of sports equipment.

  3. Environmental Engineering: Air resistance is an important consideration in the design of wind turbines, buildings, and other structures that interact with the flow of air. Minimizing air resistance can improve the efficiency and performance of these systems.

  4. Meteorology and Atmospheric Science: Air resistance, or drag, is a fundamental concept in the study of atmospheric phenomena, such as the motion of weather systems, the behavior of clouds, and the transport of pollutants.

  5. Robotics and Autonomous Systems: Air resistance is a crucial factor in the design and control of aerial and underwater robots, as it affects their maneuverability, energy consumption, and overall performance.

By understanding the principles of air resistance as a force, scientists, engineers, and researchers can develop more accurate models, design more efficient systems, and make better-informed decisions in a wide range of applications.


  1. How close is the air resistance or drag force to being proportional to the airspeed squared? – Aviation Stack Exchange:
  2. Episode 209 – Drag air resistance terminal velocity.doc – IOP Spark:
  3. How air resistance works. Is it linear? Does this experiment … – Reddit: