STEM flying aeroplanes

by Amy Collins July 23, 2018

You will need…

• 1 Gratnells shallow (F1) tray
• Card and paper in a range of bright colours
• Multicoloured jumbo art straws
• Scissors
• Sellotape
• Ruler (optional)
• Felt pens (optional)

What to do…

This activity works best if you do it with your friends.
Use any or all of the equipment in the tray to make a selection of aeroplanes.
Your aim is to make the aeroplane that travels the furthest.
Decide on your design, make it, test it and modify it to make the best possible flying machine.
All stand in a line and launch your aeroplanes.
Which one travels the furthest?

What is happening?

Paper aeroplanes are gliders. Put simply, their wings compress the air below the aeroplane creating higher pressure than the uncompressed air above the aeroplane. The aeroplane is able to ‘sit’ on this higher pressure air and glide to the ground.

To make the best paper aeroplane, you will need to consider the following factors:

• Aerodynamics – how easily the plane moves through the air, or how much air it ‘pushes’ as it goes. Planes with poor aerodynamics push a lot of air, this is known as drag or air resistance. To fly far, you need as little drag as possible.
• Gravity – the force that ‘pushes’ everything to the ground. The lighter something is the smaller the effect of gravity, so it is important to keep your planes as light as possible.
• Thrust – the initial thrust comes from the force of you ‘launching’ your aeroplane. It is important to use the right amount of thrust for your plane’s design.
• Lift – created when the air below the plane is pushing up harder (has higher pressure) than the air above the plane is pushing down (lower pressure). The pressure difference is what enables the plane to fly. You can experiment with the shape of your aeroplane’s wings to try to create more lift.

To create a long flight, all of the forces detailed here must be in balance. Will your flight be short and fast or slow and gentle? Both could achieve the same distance but just take different amounts of time to get there. The design of your aeroplane will affect the type of flight it can achieve.

Other things to try…

• Use the Gratnells shallow (F1) tray for target practice. Can you get your aeroplane to land in the tray? Experiment with placing the tray at different distances away from you. Do you need to modify your design to make your aeroplane more suited for accuracy rather the distance?
• Decorate your plane with your name, or give the aeroplane its own name, number or logo.
• Make the challenge more exciting by only giving yourselves 5 minutes to build the aeroplanes.
• Have a couple of round robin competitions, flying your planes against each other, to see which aeroplane is best at travelling the furthest and which is the most accurate.
• Discuss the differences in the designs, why were some of the aeroplanes more successful than others? Research different aeroplane designs and learn as much as you can about what is needed for successful flight.
• Modify your design or build a new aeroplane based on your observations and research.

Health & Safety

As with all Gratnells Learning Rooms What’s In My Tray Activities you should carry out your own risk assessment prior to undertaking any of the activities or demonstrations