Grade Level: 6 (5-7)
Choose From: 10 lessons and 12 activities
Subject Areas: Physical Science
SummaryThe airplanes unit begins with a lesson on how airplanes create lift, which involves a discussion of air pressure and how wings use Bernoulli's principle to change air pressure. Next, students explore the other three forces acting on airplanes—thrust, weight and drag. Following these lessons, students learn how airplanes are controlled and use paper airplanes to demonstrate these principles. The final lessons addresses societal and technological impacts that airplanes have had on our world. Students learn about different kinds of airplanes and then design and build their own balsa wood airplanes based on what they have learned.
In designing airplanes, trains, cars, rockets and bicycles—nearly everything that moves through the air—engineers must understand Bernoulli's principle. The forces caused by moving air enable airplanes to fly and trains to slow. Engineers take advantage of the nature of air pressure so their designs of these and many other applications, function correctly, efficiently and safely. Engineers manipulate air pressure to create lift; they design wings so that the air moves faster over the top than under them, causing aircraft to lift during takeoff and during flight.
Weight is another important aspect of aircraft design that engineers take into consideration. Every additional part or piece on an airplane adds weight that makes it harder for it to overcome the force of gravity. So, when engineers design airplanes, they minimize weight when choosing materials and parts, while still assuring strength and safety. Engineers also design systems that create an action called thrust (utilizing Newton's third law of motion). To create thrust, engineers may use propellers, jets or rockets; the heavier the airplane, the more thrust required to move it.
When designing airplanes, engineers also keep in mind the force of drag and the principle of energy conservation. Since drag slows down airplanes and makes them less efficient, the goal is to design planes that reduce drag. The process of iterative design helps engineers learn from the mistakes of previous designs. Engineers often build small-scale aircraft models to test how they fly, avoiding the expense of testing at full-size, and they experiment with many different designs to find the best one. Engineers also use computer models to test aspects of their designs before they build the real thing; this is less expensive, easier and quicker since they can learn from the mistakes on the small-size, inexpensive models.
Engineers take into consideration the purpose of the airplane when they design it. Over the years, engineers have advanced the design of airplanes so they are more sophisticated and specialized. Engineers also design aircraft support systems and structures, such as runways, airports and support vehicles.
When designing new airplanes, engineers follow the steps of the engineering design process, and use invention techniques such as brainstorming, to come up with new ideas. Since engineers almost always work in teams, the ability to work together to come up with ideas and solutions is important. Engineers share their thoughts and build upon each others' ideas to come up with creative design solutions.
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science,
technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN),
a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).
In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics;
within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).
In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
See individual lessons and activities for standards alignment.
The following schedule provides a suggested order of the lessons and activities. However, you may choose to only teach some of the activities – as your time and priorities permit.
- Can You Take the Pressure? lesson
- Fun with Bernoulli activity
- Air Pressure activity
- May the Force Be with You: Lift lesson
- Windy Tunnel activity
- May the Force Be With You: Weight lesson
- Bend That Bar activity
- Physics Tug of War activity
- May the Force Be With You: Thrust lesson
- Equal & Opposite Thrust in Aircraft: You’re a Pushover! activity
- May the Force Be With You: Drag lesson
- What a Drag! activity
- Take Off with Paper Airplanes lesson
- Building-Testing-Improving Paper Airplanes: Head’s Up! activity
- Airplane Tails & Wings: Are You in Control? lesson
- Better By Design activity
- Airplanes Everywhere: Land! Water! Sky! Oh, My! lesson
- Let's Get It There Fast activity
- Will It Fly? lesson
- Balsa Glider Competition activity
- Future Flights: Imagine Your Own Flying Machines! lesson
- Day 22: Design a Flying Machine activity
More Curriculum Like This
Students revisit Bernoulli's principle (presented in lesson 1 of the Airplanes unit) and learn how engineers use this principle to design airplane wings. Airplane wings create lift by changing the pressure of the air around them. This is the first of four lessons exploring the four key forces in fli...
Through the continuing storyline of the Rockets unit, this lesson looks more closely at Spaceman Rohan, Spacewoman Tess, their daughter Maya, and their challenges with getting to space, setting up satellites, and exploring uncharted waters via a canoe. Students are introduced to the ideas of thrust,...
Students study how propellers and jet turbines generate thrust. This lesson focuses on Isaac Newton's third law of motion for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Students are introduced to the concept of air pressure. They explore how air pressure creates force on an object. They study the relationship between air pressure and the velocity of moving air.
Copyright© 2009 by Regents of the University of Colorado
Supporting ProgramIntegrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under grants from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation (GK-12 grant no. 0338326). However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.
Last modified: August 5, 2021