How Does a Disc Golf Disc Fly Through the Air?


It takes a lot of skill to throw a disc in disc golf. There are so many factors in disc flight that can cause the disc to fly poorly. It takes hundreds and hundreds of hours practice to really improve your game and get better at not just keeping the disc in the air, but becoming accurate with it. Playing disc golf is really tough. But if you can master all of the characteristics of disc flight, and learn about how discs fly through the air, you can become a great disc golf player. So with that being said…

How does a disc golf disc fly through the air?

A disc golf disc flies through the air by using gyroscopic inertia and 7 other different elements of physics to maintain flight such as:

• Speed

• Attitude (pitch)

• Lift

• Spin

• Torque

• Roll (bank) and

• Aerodynamics

Discs also have three factors in the environment working against them that can completely change the way a disc flies like:

• Wind

• Gravity and

• Drag

The Complexity of disc flight

Disc flight is actually way more complex than one might think. To most of us, you simply throw a disc and it flies. It’s just a magic spinning disc that flies really far (or so some would say). It’s crazy to think that there’s a whole science behind disc flight. But you need to learn how disc flight works in relation to how it’s thrown so that you can perfect your throws, master disc flight, and become an excellent disc golfer. The 7 characteristics of disc flight at the end of this section will help you start to get a little bit better of an understanding of how a disc works. But first, here are a couple of quick things that will be working against you while you throw:

• Wind

The wind plays a really big factor in how a disc works. The speed and direction of the wind can cause a disc to do a lot of things including fly differently, act erratically, speed up with the wind, slow down, or crash to the ground. If you’re wondering how you can become a better player in the wind, check out our blog post, “Mastering Disc Golf in the Wind: A Beginner’s Guide.”

• Gravity

The gravitational pull from the earth on objects in the air directly affects discs as they fly. It is the force that holds us to the earth and the same force that causes discs to fall to the ground after being thrown. Gravity is really tough to work with. Gravity pulls the disc down and can kill a good throw.

If you’d like to learn a little bit more about how gravity works, you can read about it here.

• Drag

Drag is the resistance of wind against an object flying through the air. Drag acts as a sort of wind friction against an object, slowing it down in the process. As you throw the disc, it will naturally slow down and fall to the ground because of gravity and drag. The more aerodynamically sound an object is the better it will fly (and the less drag it will have).

You can read a little bit more about drag here.Opens in a new tab.

Gyroscopic inertia

Okay, with this I’m going to simplify it about as much as I possibly can because the majority of physics just goes over my head. The definition of Gyroscopic Inertia is, “a body that is set spinning has a tendency to keep spinning in its original orientation.” A disc is sent flying through the air with a spin and this “body,” or disc, will continue spinning until something causes it to not spin. See? Simple and easy. Now I’m not scientifically inclined, but if you are, you can read a little bit more about this here.Opens in a new tab.

The 7 characteristics of disc flight

1. Speed

How fast the disc flies through the air is one of the most important factors of disc flight. Speed can determine how far a disc goes and how quickly it gets there. Speed, in disc golf, can also greatly affect stability. Lack of speed or too much speed can cause the disc to turn too much one way or another.

2. Attitude (pitch)

Pitch, in relation to disc golf, refers to how steeply a disc is pointed (nose up or nose down) after it is thrown. The pitch of the disc will determine how far the disc travels. If the disc is pointed up too steep, it may travel very high in the air, but will eventually slow down and fall back to the ground. Just think about if you were to throw the disc up really high at an angle. The disc would fly up pretty far, but then come back down toward you (kind of like a boomerang). If you throw the disc straight down, it will just crash to the ground not far in front of you. The more level you can make the disc, the greater chance you have for the disc to fly great distances. Too much angle on the disc will cause it to not fly very far.

3. Lift

Lift is the force that opposes a disc and holds it in the air. Lift is an aerodynamic force that is produced by the disc in motion through the air. Lift, along with other factors, mainly helps to hold the disc up in the air.

4. Spin

Disc spin is super important because spin provides stability. And usually, the more spin the better. But the needed spin of a disc can differ based on whether a disc is understable, stable, or overstable.

5. Torque

Torque, in disc golf, is the amount of force you put into spinning a disc. The more force, the more spin on the disc. And the spin can affect the stability. So the amount of torque on your throw can directly affect the stability of your disc.

Here’s how you can calculate the torque needed to accelerate a spinning disc.

6. Roll (bank)

The roll or bank of the disc determines the disc’s direction of travel. By this, if you look at a disc and the angle that it has, it’s possible to know exactly which direction it will travel by the lowest point of the disc. If the disc is angled, and the lowest point is on the left side, the disc will travel to the left. If it’s angled to the right, the disc will travel to the right. In disc golf, this is commonly referred to as hyzer and anhyzer.

For a fantastic reference on this, check out our great post, “What’s the Difference Between a Hyzer and an Anhyzer?”

7. Aerodynamics

Being aerodynamic means having a shape that reduces the drag of the air moving past an object. The more aerodynamic something is, the faster and farther it can fly. This is why drivers, mid-range discs, and putters differ. They all have different shapes, which help them and hurt them according to the principle of aerodynamics.

Putters have a wide, rounded rim (most of the time), which is bad for disc flight. This is why if you try to throw a putter on a drive, it won’t fly as fast or as far. There is too much drag. Putters are not aerodynamic. Mid-range discs are a little bit better in this regard. This is why the mid-range can fly farther. It has better aerodynamics. The rim is a little bit more sleek allowing the disc to have less drag during a throw. Distance drivers are the best examples of discs that have superior aerodynamics. They are sleek and thin, reducing drag to almost nothing. This allows distance drivers to be thrown fast and far.

NASA’s “beginner guide to aerodynamics” is pretty interesting. You can check that out here.Opens in a new tab.

3 reasons why all of this is important for disc golf

1. You want to gain distance on your throws: understanding all of the flight characteristics and environmental factors that affect discs can seriously help you improve your long game. You probably already know that throwing a disc is really tough. But learning about the physics of disc flight can help you get a leg up on your competition and allow you to use this knowledge to buy the right discs, figure out your technique, and then figure out how to maximize your distance using everything together in sync.

2. Advanced throws: gaining knowledge on how discs fly, along with understanding how flight ratings can change disc flight, can really help you start to nail those advanced throws on the course. I’m not talking about simple anhyzers or hyzer throws. I’m talking about S shots, Flex shots, Hyzer Flip shots, and Roller shots. Those are some of the toughest shots to throw, but understanding disc flight can make learning them that much easier. Advanced throws also require you to learn about how disc golf flight ratings can change the way a disc flies.

If you would like to learn about disc golf flight ratings and how they affect disc flight, check out our article, “What Do the Numbers on a Disc Golf Disc Mean?”

If you would like to learn more about hyzer throws, anhyzer throws, and advanced shots like we just mentioned, check out our article, “What’s the Difference Between a Hyzer and an Anhyzer?”

3. You want to win: a thorough understanding of disc flight can not just help you gain more distance and learn those tough throws, but help you win in the course. Thorough disc flight mastery is important for your overall game. The more you understand the physics of disc flight, and can implement it into your game, the better chance you have of winning every round.

Overall

Practice, patience, and hard work: if there ever was a winning formula for disc golf, that would be it. But the game is more than that. The entirety of disc golf rests on how a disc is able to fly through the air. You have to know how this process works. And now, hopefully you have a much better understanding of disc flight and how exactly a disc flies through the air. Alright, so get out there and go throw!

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I am an avid disc golfer and lover of the sport. My mission with DiscgolfNOW.com is to reach as many people as possible to help them love disc golf, too!

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