Hands-on Activity: Design a Parachute
Educational Standards :
Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)
Materials List (Return to Contents)
Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)
What is the purpose of a parachute? What is the role of a parachute in skydiving?
Imagine you are jumping out of a plane 10,000 feet in the air. What type of material would you want your parachute to be made of and what size would you want it to be?
The design of a parachute is very important, especially in an extreme sport such as skydiving because someone's life is dependent on the parachute functioning correctly. Engineers thoroughly test the materials and designs of parachutes to ensure that they open as intended and reliably, and are strong enough to withstand the air resistance needed to slow skydivers to safe landing speeds.
Procedure (Return to Contents)
A parachute is an umbrella-shaped device of light fabric used especially for making a safe jump from aircraft. Due to the resistance of air, a drag force acts on a falling body (parachute) to slow down its motion. Without air resistance, or drag, objects would continue to increase speed until they hit the ground. The larger the object, the greater its air resistance. Parachutes use a large canopy to increase air resistance. This gives a slow fall and a soft landing.
A history of parachutes, plus good pictures: http://www.parachutehistory.com/
Explanation of free fall and air resistance with diagrams (Newton's second law): ( http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/newtlaws/u2l3e.cfm)
Explanation of forces on a falling object with air resistance: http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/airplane/falling.html
With the Students
Investigating Questions (Return to Contents)
Assessment (Return to Contents)
Activity Extensions (Return to Contents)
Using the paper material that worked the best, do the same activity testing the parachute size. Have students test circles with different radii to find the optimal size.
Try parachutes with and without holes in the top, and different-sized holes.
Make parachutes using different materials, such as plastics, cotton and nylon.
Hold a competition to find a design that can land a toy vehicle most gently.
Copyright© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Supporting Program (Return to Contents)Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University
Last Modified: September 2, 2014