AQA GCSE Physics

Revision Notes

5.6.15 Representing Terminal Velocity

Representing Terminal Velocity

  • A velocity-time graph can show how the velocity of an object changes in time as it reaches terminal velocity
  • There are characteristic features of all terminal velocity graphs:
    • The gradient (or slope) of a velocity-time graph represents the acceleration of the object
    • On any terminal velocity graph, the gradient (acceleration) will decrease from being very large down to zero
    • Sometimes the gradient is negative (i.e. showing deceleration, or slowing down)

Debbie opens parachute, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Physics revision notes

Debbie the skydiver experiences a large deceleration (her speed decreases suddenly) as soon as she opens her parachute, because of a large resultant force upwards

  • The image above shows a skydiver slowing down, due to the large upwards resultant force acting on her
    • At this moment in time, the air resistance is larger than the skydiver’s weight (due to the parachute’s huge surface area)
    • This results in a large unbalanced force upwards, decelerating the skydiver’s descent
  • The graph below summarises how a skydiver’s velocity changes up to and following the point of opening a parachute:

V-T graph for Terminal Velocity, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Physics revision notes

Graph showing how the velocity of a skydiver changes during descent

Author: Jonathan

Jonathan graduated with a first-class Master's degree in Theoretical Physics from Imperial College London. He has worked in education for more than a decade as a Maths and Physics Teacher, Tutor, Head of Physics, and most recently, as Assistant Headteacher. He is now an Educational Consultant and works with us to design and improve our Physics resources.
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