Scientists say the way airflow around the nose is more complex than that in a jumbo jet’s wing.
Imperial College London researchers built a 3D model of the nose and used fluid to work out how air flows around it and how it senses different smells.
They say the study could help surgeons plan operations and the development of a cure for runny noses.
The structure of the nose meant air eddied, whirled and re-circulated as it passed through the nose, the team said.
Principal researcher Dr Denis Doorly said: “People are used to the flows around an aeroplane being complicated but that is in some ways simpler than understanding the flows inside the nose.
“The geometry of the nose is highly complex, with no straight lines or simple curves like an aircraft wing and the regime of airflow is not simply laminar or turbulent.”