Wind Tunnel Testing

This lesson focuses on wind tunnel tests that engineers use to develop products such as airplanes, cars, and even buildings. Teams of students build their own model car out of everyday materials and test their design in a wind tunnel made of a fan blowing through a long cardboard box.

  • Learn about engineering design.
  • Learn about wind tunnels and engineering testing.
  • Learn about teamwork and working in groups.

Age Levels: 11-18

Build Materials (For each team)

Required Materials (Trading/Table of Possibilities)

  • String
  • Plastic wrap
  • Foil
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Toothpicks
  • Paperclips
  • Paper
  • Cardboard
  • 1 Cardboard tube (from paper towel or toilet paper roll)

Testing Materials

  • Ramp:
    • Piece of wood or hard plastic (set up at 15 degree slope)
  • Wind tunnel:
    • Small portable fan
    • Rectangular cardboard box with ends removed
    • Masking tape to affix box to the floor in fixed position
    • Tape measure

Materials

  • Ramp:
    • Piece of wood or hard plastic (set up at 15 degree slope)
  • Wind tunnel:
    • Small portable fan
    • Rectangular cardboard box with ends removed
    • Masking tape to affix box to the floor in fixed position
    • Tape measure

Process

Before testing their car design in the wind tunnel, each team should test their car on the ramp to be sure it can roll. Their car must roll down a ramp set at an angle of 15 degrees and must roll at least 4 feet before it’s “certified” for wind testing.

Set up the classroom “wind tunnel” by taping a rectangle box (open at both ends) to the classroom floor. Place the fan at one end of the box. Each team then places their car design at one end of the box (mark the starting point for consistency). Turn the fan on (same speed for each test) and have each team measure the distance their car was pushed by the wind before stopping.

Design Challenge

You are a team of engineers who have been given the challenge of building a new car design that offers the best fuel efficiency by creating the least drag or resistance to the wind.

Criteria

  • Must roll car down a ramp angled at 15 degrees for at least 4 feet before it’s “certified” for wind testing.

Constraints

  • Use only the materials provided.
  • Teams may trade unlimited materials.
  1. Break class into teams of 2-3.
  2. Hand out the Wind Tunnel Testing worksheet, as well as some sheets of paper for sketching designs.
  3. Have students work in teams to try out the online wind tunnel at https://wright.nasa.gov/airplane/tunnl2int.html. This will provide a better understanding of how the shape of their car will impact results.
  4. Review the Engineering Design Process, Design Challenge, Criteria, Constraints and Materials. Consider asking students how the shape of a car may change the way a wind tunnel works. Would a truck test differently than a car? How about a convertible?
  5. Provide each team with their materials.
  6. Explain that students must develop a new car prototype that offers the best fuel efficiency by creating the least drag or resistance to the wind.
  7. Announce the amount of time they have to design and build (1 hour recommended).
  8. Use a timer or an on-line stopwatch (count down feature) to ensure you keep on time. (www.online-stopwatch.com/full-screen-stopwatch). Give students regular “time checks” so they stay on task. If they are struggling, ask questions that will lead them to a solution quicker.
  9. Students meet and develop a plan for their car. 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.
  10. Teams build their designs. Students must ramp test their cars. Their car must roll down a ramp set at an angle of 15 degrees and must roll at least 4 feet before it’s “certified” for wind testing.
  11. Test the car designs by placing the car at one end of the “wind tunnel” box (at the marked starting point). Turn the fan on (same speed for each test).
  12. Teams should document the distance their car was pushed by the wind before stopping.
  13. If time allows, give students an opportunity to redesign their car, if they determine that alterations might improve performance.
  14. As a class, discuss the student reflection questions.
  15. For more content on the topic, see the “Digging Deeper” section.

Student Reflection (engineering notebook)

  1. What distance did your car move when the wind tunnel was on? How did this relate to the distances of the other model cars in your classroom?
  2. What do you think was the aspect of the design of the car that moved the least that made it the most successful?
  3. Do you think that engineers have to adapt their original plans during the manufacturing process? Why might they?
  4. If you had to do it all over again, how would your planned design change? Why?
  5. What designs or methods did you see other teams try that you thought worked well?
  6. Did you find that there were many designs in your classroom that met the project goal? What does this tell you about engineering plans?
  7. Do you think you would have been able to complete this project easier if you were working alone? Explain how teamwork impacted this project.
  8. 8. List several products that you think would benefit from wind tunnel testing.

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

  • Constraints: Limitations with material, time, size of team, etc.
  • Criteria: Conditions that the design must satisfy like its overall size, etc.
  • Durability: Ability to last a long time.
  • Efficiency: Operating or working in a way that gets results, with little wasted effort.
  • 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).
  • Performance: Way of working or operating.
  • Prototype: A working model of the solution to be tested.
  • Wind Tunnel: Large tubes with air moving inside.
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Internet Connections

Recommended Reading

  • Transonic Wind Tunnel Testing (ISBN: 0486458814)
  • The Wright Brothers: A Biography of Aviation’s Greatest Pioneers (ISBN: 0316861448)

Writing Activity

Write an essay or a paragraph about what other manufactured products would benefit from wind tunnel testing.

Alignment to Curriculum Frameworks

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

National Science Education Standards Grades K-4 (ages 4 – 9)

CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry 
  • Understanding about scientific inquiry 

CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science

As a result of the activities, all students should develop an understanding of

  • Position and motion of objects 

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology 

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities of technological design 
  • Understanding about science and technology 

CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Science and technology in local challenges 

CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Science as a human endeavor 

National Science Education Standards Grades 5-8 (ages 10 – 14)

CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry 

CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science

As a result of their activities, all students should develop an understanding of

  • Motions and forces 

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology

As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop

  • Abilities of technological design 
  • Understandings about science and technology 

CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Science and technology in society 

National Science Education Standards Grades 9-12 (ages 14-18)

CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry 
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry 

CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science 

As a result of their activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Motions and forces 
  • Interactions of energy and matter 

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities of technological design 
  • Understandings about science and technology 

CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Natural and human-induced hazards 
  • Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges 

CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Historical perspectives 

Next Generation Science Standards Grades 3-5 (Ages 8-11)

Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions

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. 

Engineering Design 

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • 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.

Next Generation Science Standards Grades 6-8 (Ages 11-14)

Engineering Design 

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • MS-ETS1-1 Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

Next Generation Science Standards Grades 6-8 (Ages 11-14)

Engineering Design 

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • MS-ETS1-2 Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Next Generation Science Standards Grades 9-12 (Ages 14-18)

Engineering Design 

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • HS-ETS1-4.  Use a computer simulation to model the impact of proposed solutions to a complex real-world problem with numerous criteria and constraints on interactions within and between systems relevant to the problem.

Standards for Technological Literacy – All Ages

The Nature of Technology

  • Standard 1: Students will develop an understanding of the characteristics and scope of technology
  • Standard 2: Students will develop an understanding of the core concepts of technology.
  • Standard 3: Students will develop an understanding of the relationships among technologies and the connections between technology and other fields of study.

Technology and Society

  • Standard 4: Students will develop an understanding of the cultural, social, economic, and political effects of technology.
  • Standard 7: Students will develop an understanding of the influence of technology on history.

Design

  • Standard 9: Students will develop an understanding of engineering design.
  • Standard 10: Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving.

Abilities for a Technological World

  • Standard 12: Students will develop abilities to use and maintain technological products and systems.
  • Standard 13: Students will develop abilities to assess the impact of products and systems.

The Designed World

  • Standard 20: Students will develop an understanding of and be able to select and use construction technologies.

You are a team of engineers who have been given the challenge of building a new automobile prototype that offers the best fuel efficiency by creating the least drag or resistance to the wind.

Research/Preparation Phase

  1. Review the various Student Reference Sheets, and if internet access is available try out a virtual wind tunnel at http://wright.nasa.gov/airplane/tunnl2int.html.


Planning as a Team

  1. Your team has been provided with some “construction materials” by your teacher. You have tape, string, plastic wrap, foil, popsicle sticks, toothpicks, paperclips, paper, pencils, cardboard, one cardboard tube (from paper towel or toilet paper roll) and must use all materials so all cars weigh the same.
  2. Start by meeting with your team and devising a plan for your car. Feel how strong the wind will blow in your classroom wind tunnel so you can anticipate how strong your car must be. Your car must hold its form through all wind levels and move the least to indicate it has the least resistance to the wind.
  3. Write or draw your plan in the box below, including your projection for the materials you’ll require to complete the construction. Present your design to the class, and explain your choice of materials. You may choose to revise your teams’ plan after you receive feedback from class.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Materials Needed:

 

 

 

 

Construction Phase

  1. Build your car!


Ramp Test

Your car must pass a ramp test before fan testing.  It must roll down a ramp set at an angle of 15 degrees and must roll at least 4 feet before it’s “certified” for wind testing.


The Wind Tunnel Test!

  1. Observe as your team and other teams test their prototypes in your classroom wind tunnel. You should conduct three tests and average the values you find. Record your team’s results in the box below, including points and observations.

 

Test #1 Results and Observations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Test #2 Results and Observations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Test #3 Results and Observations

 

 

 

 

 

 

Average Results

 

 

 

 

 

Re-engineering

If time allows, you may redesign your car if you determine that alterations might improve performance.


Reflection

  1. What distance did your car move when the wind tunnel was on? How did this relate to the distances of the other model cars in your classroom?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. What do you think was the aspect of the design of the car that moved the least that made it the most successful?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Do you think that engineers have to adapt their original plans during the manufacturing process? Why might they?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. If you had to do it all over again, how would your planned design change? Why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. What designs or methods did you see other teams try that you thought worked well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Did you find that there were many designs in your classroom that met the project goal? What does this tell you about engineering plans?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Do you think you would have been able to complete this project easier if you were working alone? Explain how teamwork impacted this project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. How many products can you think of that would benefit from wind tunnel testing?

 

 

 

 

 

Downloadable Student Certificate of Completion