Project 4 How do airplanes fly?

STEM+C Projects

A Project-based STEM+Computing Inquiry

About

This project was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant Number 1640228. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Dazhi Yang at dazhiyang@boisestate.edu or use our Contact Form.

Description

This project-based scientific inquiry project: How Do Airplanes Fly? is centered on airplane design and flight control components. It requires students to apply knowledge from physics, mathematics, engineering, technology and computing to solve problems. In this project, students work in small groups to explore and research different types of airplanes, key concepts of why an airplane can fly, turn and be stable, flight control components, and the associated physics and engineering principles. Then, students design a type of an airplane and test their design.

Implementation

Please refer to the weekly activities (such as Week 1 Session 1 in the left sidebar and Resources from the sections below) for detailed information on how to use this project either in a classroom or an informal setting such as in community centers' after-school programs. The twice weekly sessions were originally designed to be 90 minutes in length, including a 10 minute break in the middle of the session. See photos of prior implementations on the projects' photo pages.


Week 5


Session 1
Questions

What is the role of propellers in flight?

How do propellers work?


Goal

To understand the role of propellers in flight


Activities

Propeller Videos and questions

Make rubber band propellers


Resources

Video

Propeller Materials


Outcomes

Journal Notes

Propeller powered airplanes

Session 2
Questions

How can I design my glider for best flight in distance and airtime?


Goal

To understand the design process


Activities

Design and test gliders

space


Resources

Propeller Materials

space


Outcomes

Glider design and test results

How do airplanes fly?


How can we test an airplane? Small-group Hands-on Scientific Inquiry Finish last activity if needed

Discussion: "How can we test an airplane? How can we test an airplane’s wings? For an airplane, you can test it by flying it; but wings are usually attached to the body of an airplane in order to work. Engineers who design and build airplanes use wind tunnels to test their airplanes and their wings before someone has to fly the airplane. It can be dangerous to fly a brand new airplane without some test first. Engineers make sure it is safe enough for a person to go up on a brand new airplane and test it.

Engineers usually first test the wing in a wind tunnel to make sure it is the best it can be and then they test the whole airplane to make sure it is safe and has the characteristics (regarding drag and lift) the engineers wanted. Hence the main purpose of a wind tunnel is to measure the lift and drag of whatever object you are testing.

We have a wind tunnel to use to help us design a better airplane. The facilitator/teacher demonstrates and explains how the wind tunnel works: fan sucks in air, creates wind in the test section. Sensors in the test section measure lift and drag. An engineer will try to maximize the lift over drag ratio to get the best performance of the airplane.

Students will test their airplanes without the propellers and calculate the lift over drag ratio.

The facilitator/teacher shows the students a wind tunnel from the resource below. Read and discuss the introduction together. Ask the students if they have questions, and answer them as best as possible or research answers unknown together.

How to Build a Wind Tunnel and How to Use a Wind Tunnel Introduction only

For the facilitator/teacher, be sure you covered the following in your discussion.

How to operate the wind tunnel?

The different speeds of the fan for slow, medium and fast flight.

How lift is measured and where you can read the lift of the airplane

How drag is measured and where you can read the drag of the airplane

Students will now test their propeller Styrofoam airplanes, without the propellers and associated rubber band, in the wind tunnel at different fan speeds. Each group will test their plane three times. Students record their data on the Wind Tunnel Record Worksheet provided below and in the resource section.


Resources

NASA: Wind Tunnels

Wind Tunnel Record Worksheet

Problem Solving Process Diagram

Styrofoam Airplanes

Wind Tunnel


End of Session Reflection and Debriefing 5-10 minutes

Teacher briefly explains the computational thinking (CT) skill embedded in the Problem Solving Process Diagram. Using the problem solving process diagram, the teacher will ask students to identify what kind of problem solving skills/process/computational thinking they used in this session and explain how they used it. The following are some sample questions that can guide the debrief.

What did I learn today?

What problem solving skills/processes or CT components in this diagram did I use today?

How did I use the problem solving skills/processes/CT components?

How do airplanes fly?


Introduce Final Competition 10 minutes This is on the recording sheet also

The facilitator asks the students to discuss what they learned from designing their planes. Ask the students the steps in the Problem Solving Process and discuss. Tell the students the final contest is deciding whose plane flies the farthest and whose plane stays in the air the longest. Each person flying a plane must abide by the following rules.


Each student starts at the starting line and throws their airplane without going over the starting line.

Distance is measured where the airplane hits the floor (the hitting point) and not where the airplane slides on the floor.

Distance is measured in feet and inches as a straight line between the starting line and the point the airplane hits.

Each student or team has three chances to throw their airplane and record/measure the distance each time.

All throws will be recorded.

The best distance (from the three throws) will be counted and reported.




Each student throws their airplane at the starting line.

The timer will start when the airplane leaves the students hands and will stop when the airplane first hits the floor and not where it slides and lands.

The time will be measured in seconds.

Each student/team will have three throws and record the time for each flight time.

The best time (of the three throws) will be counted and reported.


How do airplanes fly? Small-group Hands-on Scientific Inquiry 30 minutes

The teacher tells the students, “The time has come for you to make your own airplane to be tested in the wind tunnel and flown in our final competition. Each team will make two airplanes for the competitions. One for the distance competition and one for the longest flight time competition. Though, each team member can make an aircraft to test, but for the competition, the team must choose one aircraft for each of the competitions. Once you begin designing your airplanes, use Styrofoam to make new airplane wing, attach the wing to your balsa wood fuselage, and test the wing in the wind tunnel. Then refine your design and test in the wind tunnel until you are satisfied with your design. Then flight test with the propeller attached to the balsa wood fuselage. Refine and test again..” Remind students to think about the size (length, width, thickness) and shape of the wing that will create the best lift over drag ratio for the airspeed that they think the plane will be flying at. They also need to figure out where the best place for the wing is and how to position the tail (horizontal stabilizer) to give the right downward tail force. As a not of caution, once a student has an airplane flying well, have them mark the location of the wing and how the tail is positioned (maybe take a picture) and they can start on a different wing to see if they can improve on their design. this way they did not "mess up" and good design while trying to improve it. The can use the Flight Record Sheet to take notes on their airplane flight data. They will have the next few sessions to complete this task. Below are some resources to use to help spark ideas.


Resources

Flight Testing Record Worksheet

Problem Solving Process Diagram

Timer

Ruler

Foam Glider

Instructables Foam Glider

Straw and Plate Glider

DIY Foam Glider

McEagle Styrofoam Glider


End of Session Reflection and Debriefing 5-10 minutes

Using the Problem Solving Process Diagram, the teacher will ask students to identify what kind of problem solving skills/process/computational thinking they used in this session and explain how they used it. The following are some sample questions that can guide the debrief.

What did I learn today?

What problem solving skills/processes or CT components in this diagram did I use today?

How did I use the problem solving skills/processes/CT components?