What Makes a Golf Disc Fly?

Disc Golf Articles: What makes a golf disc fly?
by David McCormack

The aerodynamics of a golf disc are very similar to that of a wing on a plane except for one thing: the disc is spinning! We will use a right handed back-handed throw for all explanations.

There are 5 main factors which affect the aerodynamics of a flying golf disc:

1. Low pressure: the air that comes over the nose of the disc and up to the center
2. High pressure: the air that hits the wing (underside portion of the rim) of the disc
3. Lift: created from high and low pressure and the air as it goes down the backside of the top of the disc
4. Drag: the air that hits the underside of the rim at the back of the disc
5. Speed: the nose radius and resistance from high and low pressure dictate the speed of the disc

When a right-handed player throws backhanded, the disc will spin clockwise. As the air hits the leading edge of the disc, it is diverted to between 12 and 4 o’clock. Air that comes over the top (low pressure) is pushing the right side down making it want to go right. The air that hits the wing moves along it under the rim on the right pushing upwards making it want to go left. The differential between these two forces will decide if the disc will fly overstable or understable.

Claims made in the current patent describe gyroscopic effects that the distribution of weight in the rim has on how far a disc will travel. The patent also mentions that additional flexibility helps with lift, but almost every aerodynamics expert I’ve talked to has contradicted this claim. In fact, the more flexible a disc is, the less repeatability and control you have when throwing the disc. (Example: do you throw your gummy putter for long lay-ups? No, not if you want control… but that’s another topic for another day.)

Since distance is not the only thing you expect from your disc, we have made some changes to the design of Gateway discs to add to their controllability. Taking some of the weight off of the rim and adding it to the flight plate right behind the rim and in the center this adds to the disc’s spin around its centrifugal axis. This new feature adds structural reinforcement to the disc, keeping it from getting bent out of shape when it hits trees. It also helps the disc remain on its original flight plane without too much low-speed fade as it loses its rotation. Finally, this design decreases the gyroscopic effect and adds to the centrifugal spin, allowing the disc to drop closer to its original flight plane without gyroscopically looping off line.