Take Flight!

This lesson explores how flight is possible and how engineers have improved glider designs and materials to improve flight accuracy and distance. Students build and test their own gliders out of simple materials.

  • Learn about the forces that impact flight.
  • Learn about engineering design, testing, and troubleshooting.
  • Learn how engineering can help solve society’s challenges.
  • Learn about teamwork and problem solving.

Age Levels: 8 – 12

Lesson Plan Overview

Build Materials (Teams to select)

 Required Materials

  • Cardboard/Cardstock
  • Cardboard tubes (paper towel, toilet paper)
  • Popsicle sticks/Balsa wood/Paint stirrers
  • Craft foam sheets/Foam trays
  • Paperclips/Rubber bands
  • Foil

Weight Materials

  • Coins/Rocks/Clay/putty

Testing Materials

  • Measuring tape
  • Box, goal, or bench for target
  • A gym or nice day – to test outdoors!

Materials

  • Measuring tape
  • Box, goal, or bench for target
  • A gym or nice day – to test outdoors!

Process

  • Each team will test their design by flying their glider from a starting point to a target fifteen feet away. Measure and record the distance that each glider successfully flies.
  • To flight test, identify a large target such as a box, goal or bench so that gliders fly away from students. An objective person should “fly” each glider so the strength of the launch is consistent. Each plane will be tested three times with the furthest distance of the three used to determine the winning team.
  • Document the distance flown and draw the flight path of each test.

Learn the basics of how a glider works. (Video 1:00)

https://nj.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/arct14.sci.dsattack/how-does-a-glider-work/

Source: PBS Learning Media website – Design Squad Nation

There are 4 forces that impact how things fly (weight, lift, drag, and thrust). See how they work together to produce flight. (Video 1:12) 

Source: Smithsonian Education YouTube Channel

Did you know there is a World Paper Airplane Championship? It’s true! Red Bull sponsors the Championship each year. Maybe you could be one of the next competitors. (Video 3:49)

Source: Red Bull YouTube Channel

Design Challenge

You are a team of engineers given the challenge of creating a glider out of simple materials that can fly as straight as possible toward a target that is fifteen feet away.

Criteria

  • Glider must fly as straight as possible toward a target that is fifteen feet away.

Constraints

  • Can use only the materials provided.
  • Unused materials may be shared with other teams or materials may be traded.
  1. Break class into teams of 2-4.
  2. Hand out the Take Flight worksheet, as well as some sheets of paper for sketching designs.
  3. Discuss the topics in the Background Concepts Section.
  4. Review the Engineering Design Process, Design Challenge, Criteria, Constraints and Materials. If time allows, review “Real World Applications” prior to conducting the design challenge.
  5. Before instructing students to start brainstorming and sketching their designs, ask them to consider the following:
    ● Three main parts of a glider: the wings, the body (or fusilage), and the tail
    ● Balancing the 4 forces that impact flight: thrust, weight, lift, and drag
    ● How the “weight” of your design is offset by the “lift”
    ● If a stabilizer on the tail or extra weight in the front is needed to improve stability
  6. Provide each team with their materials.
  7. Explain that students must develop a glider from everyday items, and that the glider must be able to fly as straight as possible toward a target that is fifteen feet away.
  8. Announce the amount of time they have to design and build (1 hour recommended).
  9. Use a timer or an on-line stopwatch (count down feature) to ensure you keep on time.. Give students regular “time checks” so they stay on task. If they are struggling, ask questions that will lead them to a solution quicker.
  10. Students meet and develop a plan for their glider. They agree on materials they will need, write/draw their plan, and present their plan to the class. Teams may trade unlimited materials with other teams to develop their ideal parts list.
  11. Teams build their designs.
  12. Test the glider designs by flying each glider from a starting point to a target fifteen feet away. Measure and record the distance that each glider successfully flies.
  13. Teams should document the distance flown and draw the flight path of each test.
  14. As a class, discuss the student reflection questions.
  15. For more content on the topic, see the “Real World Applications” and “Digging Deeper” sections.

Student Reflection (engineering notebook)

  1. How similar was your final glider to your original design template?
  2. If you found you needed to make changes during the construction phase, describe why your team decided to make revisions.
  3. Did you find you needed to add additional materials during construction? What did you add, and why?
  4. Do you think that engineers often change their original plans during the manufacturing phase of development? How do you think this might impact a planned design or manufacturing budget?
  5. How did you decide which materials to select for final construction? What was it about the materials that you thought might help your glider fly?
  6. How did you decide on the shape of the parts of your glider? What was it about the shape of each part that you thought might help your glider fly?

Time Modification

The lesson can be done in as little as 1 class period for older students. However, to help students from feeling rushed and to ensure student success (especially for younger students), split the lesson into two periods giving students more time to brainstorm, test ideas and finalize their design. Conduct the testing and debrief in the next class period.

Divide into teams
Review the challenge and criteria constraints
Brainstorm possible solutions (sketch while you brainstorm!)
Choose best solution and build a prototype
Test then redesign until solution is optimized
Reflect as a team and debrief as a class

What Forces Impact Flight?

normaals-bigstock.com

There are four forces that impact flight:  Weight, Lift, Drag, and Thrust. All four forces have to be taken into consideration when designing and building a glider or airplane. In flight, each force has an opposite force that works against it.

Everything has weight, which is a result of gravitational forces. The materials selected for a glider design will have a weight that will need to be offset by “Lift” in order to fly.

Lift is an aerodynamic force that helps to counteract weight. The heavier an object is, the  harder it is for lift to work against it and achieve flight. But, the forward motion (velocity)  or thrust of an aircraft through the air along with the shape of the aircraft and its parts,  especially its wings, all impact how strong the force of lift will be! Many wings have a  curved shape on top and are flatter on the bottom so air moves faster over the top. When  air moves faster, the pressure of the air decreases. If the pressure on the top of the wing  is lower than the pressure on the bottom of the wing, the difference in pressure helps lift the wing up into the air.

The last of the four forces impacting flight is drag….and this force works to slow a glider  or plane. Drag is a force that acts opposite to the relative motion of any object moving  with respect to surrounding air (or water!). For example, drag acts opposite to the  direction of movement of an object such as a car, bicycle, airplane, glider, or boat hull. It  is impacted by the shape and material selection of a plane or boat, as well as other  factors, including the humidity of the air. It is also impacted by the thrust or speed of  the aircraft…the greater the thrust, the greater the drag.

In the case of the glider to be built as part of this lesson…the thrust is generated by the  person who will push your plane through the air during testing! For a motorized plane, it  is the motor that provides propulsion and the power to move through the air. A plane  may have several motors to generate thrust, and the design of the motor also impacts  how the surrounding air is moved, which in turn impacts thrust and drag.

All the forces impacting flight are interrelated. How a plane flies depends on the strength  and direction of all four forces! If all are in balance, a plane will move along at a constant  velocity. If there are any imbalances, the plane will move in the direction of that force…for  example if weight overpowers lift, the plane will move down.

A plane goes up if the forces of lift and thrust are stronger than gravity and drag. If  gravity and drag are stronger than lift and thrust, the plane goes down.

The Wright Brothers

jennyt-bigstock.com

Orville Wright (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948, left) and Wilbur Wright (April 16,  1867 – May 30, 1912, right), were two brothers and aviation pioneers who are generally  credited with inventing, building, and flying the world’s first successful airplane. They  made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft on  December 17, 1903, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, US. In 1904–05 the brothers  further developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft. Although  not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the Wright Brothers were the first to  invent and fine tune aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible.

The brothers’ real breakthrough was their invention of three-axis control – this enabled a pilot to steer the aircraft and maintain equilibrium, or balance. This method still remains  the standard for all kinds of fixed-wing aircrafts. While others of the era were focusing on  making more powerful engines, the Wright brothers thought that finding a way to control  an aircraft was the more pressing challenge.

Using a small home built wind tunnel, the brothers tested and retested their ideas and  designs. They collected lots of data that helped them design and build more efficient  wings and propellers that could be controlled. Their first U.S. patent, 821,393, did not claim invention of a flying machine, but rather, the invention of a “system of aerodynamic  control that manipulated a flying machine’s surfaces.”

They gained the experience and skills essential for their success by working with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other machines. Their work with bicycles in particular influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle like a flying machine could actually be controlled and balanced with practice!

From 1900 until their first powered flights in late 1903, they conducted extensive glider tests that also developed their skills as pilots.

More details on the Invention Process of the Wright Brothers can be found at  https://wright.nasa.gov/overview.htm.

  • Aerodynamic: The qualities of an object that affect how easily it is able to move through the air.
  • Constraints: Limitations with material, time, size of team, etc.
  • Criteria: Conditions that the design must satisfy like its overall size, etc.
  • Drag: A force that acts opposite to the relative motion of any object moving with respect to surrounding air.
  • Engineers: Inventors and problem-solvers of the world. Twenty-five major specialties are recognized in engineering (see infographic).
  • Engineering Design Process: Process engineers use to solve problems.
  • Engineering Habits of Mind (EHM): Six unique ways that engineers think.
  • Iteration: Test & redesign is one iteration. Repeat (multiple iterations).
  • Lift: An aerodynamic force that helps to counteract weight. The heavier an object is, the harder it is for lift to work against it and achieve flight.
  • Pressure: The application of force to something by something else in direct contact with it.
  • Prototype: A working model of the solution to be tested.
  • Thrust: The forward motion (velocity) or thrust of an aircraft through the air along with the shape of the aircraft and its parts.
  • Velocity: How fast an object is moving in a particular direction.
  • Weight: Everything has weight, which is a result of gravitational forces. The materials selected for a glider design will have a weight that will need to be offset by “lift” in order to fly.

Internet Connections

Recommended Reading

  • Jet Plane: How It Works, David Macaulay (ISBN: 978-1626722118)
  • The Big Book of Airplanes, DK (ISBN: 978-1465445070)
  • Flight, DK (ISBN: 978-0756673178)

Writing Activity

Write an essay or a paragraph about how glider technology has changed over the past hundred years. Or, write an essay about how you think the world has been impacted because people can fly.

Alignment to Curriculum Frameworks

Note: Lesson plans in this series are aligned to one or more of the following sets of standards:  

Next Generation Science Standards (grades 3-5)

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • 3-PS2-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object. 
  • 3-PS2-2. Make observations and/or measurements of an object’s motion to provide evidence that a pattern can be used to predict future motion. 
  • 3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • 3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • 3-5-ETS1-3. Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.
  • 5-PS2-1. Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.

U.S. Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (grades 3-5)

  • Grade Three: Represent and Interpret Data (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.3.MD.B.4)
  • Grade Four: Represent and Interpret Data (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.MD.B.4)
  • Grade Five: Represent and Interpret Data (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.5.MD.B.2)

International Technology Education Association’s Standards for Technological Literacy (grades 3-5)

  • Chapter 8 – The Attributes of Design
    • Definitions of Design
    • Requirements of Design
  • Chapter 9 – Engineering Design
    • Engineering Design Process
    • Creativity and Considering all ideas
    • Models
  • Chapter 10 – The Role of Troubleshooting, Research and Development, Invention, and Experimentation in Problem Solving
    • Troubleshooting
    • Invention and innovation
    • Experimentation
  • Chapter 11 – Apply the Design Process
    • Collect information
    • Visualize a solution
    • Test and evaluate solutions
    • Improve a design

Lesson Plan Translation