G3 Program 11: Flight

To continue with our summer of fun G3 programming, our next topic was “flight.” In particular, fun with some really simple flying machines…and a rather large Lego Ninjago target 🙂  As we learned in the opening presentation, some of the earliest man-made flying objects were kites found in China as early as 400 BC! Four hundred years before the very first helicopter soared into the sky, famous Renaissance man Leonardo Da Vinci was drawing sketches that would later inspire the invention of the helicopter. In the 1780’s, Europeans could be seen floating through the air in hot air balloons. What does this all mean? It means that for much of human history, men and women have been fascinated with flight and continually strive to send objects (and themselves) into the air.

Many of us are very familiar with the work of the Wright brothers in leading advances in mechanical flight (i.e., motorized airplanes). However, it is an Englishman named Sir George Cayley who earned the title of “The Father of Aviation.” Around 1800, Cayley not only detailed the necessary forces at work for objects to fly…but he also created the first glider capable of carrying a human being through the air. And that first air-born human was actually a 12-year old boy!

So what are the forces at work during flight? For the purposes of our program, the G3 scientists just got a brief introduction to the 4 forces and their basic definitions. The National Air and Space Museum web site provides some great online information about flight and its forces. Those forces are:

  • LIFT.  Air moves over the top of a wing, and needs to travel faster than the air moving under the wing. Faster air = lower air pressure. The high pressure UNDER the wing lifts the wing up toward lower pressure.
  • THRUST.  Makes a plane fly forward. For our G3 projects, thrust is created by rubber bands or our own muscles.
  • DRAG.  Thrust and drag work against each other. Thrust pushes a plane forward until the resistance from drag pushes hard enough to make flight stop. [For designing our paper airplanes, small pointed fronts/tips make for less drag.]
  • WEIGHT.  Lift aims to keep objects up in the air; weight drags them down. The heavier the material, the more lift needed to help it fly.

Before we dove into the project work for the day, I felt it would be inspirational to see the following video depicting the world-record paper airplane throw back in February 2012. The paper airplane had no special enhancements; it was simply made from well-designed and folded paper.

The man who designed the airplane seen above is John Collins, also known as “The Paper Airplane Guy.” Collins has made a full-time career out of doing nothing more than designing paper airplanes! In particular, he is famous for using nothing but paper and origami-like paper folding skills in his designs. Collins shares some simple paper airplane designs on his web site. In the video below, Collins is interviewed by Jamie & Adam so that Collins can share some great information about his paper folding techniques, different design styles, etc.

Mastering the Criss-Cross Flyer

Working hard with designs…

So, with John Collins and his fabulous designs as one source of inspiration, we then turned toward the great designs shared in Bobby Mercer’s fantastic book, The Flying Machine Book: Build and Launch 35 Rockets, Gliders, Helicopters, Boomerangs, and More. Our G3 scientists started their work with creating a simple boomerang, called a “Criss-Cross Flyer.” Though easy to make, it was the throwing technique that took some practice…but our crews were up to the challenge! We then turned our attention to some of the rubberband-powered gliders, in particular the “Classic Dart” and the very fast “Streak.”  It was with these gliders that our tempting Lego Ninjago target finally got some action. G3 scientists from both Track A and Track B all mastered the art of shooting their gliders through the target holes (and sometimes the faces of some of the Ninjago characters!).

Attack!

Score!

At day’s end, all scientists went home with instructions for making the flying machines we used in the program, along with some additional simple designs like the “Red Baron” and the “Flying Flounder” (both hand-powered gliders), as well as the “Basic Straw Rocket.” The Lego Ninjago target got rolled up for safe-keeping (and possibly more use at a later date) 🙂 The scientists in Track A seemed to have a lot of fun in mastering the throwing technique for the Criss-Cross Flyer, while the scientists in Track B were rather fond of the Classic Dart. My personal fave was probably the Streak. How would you design your own flying machine? Would you be aiming for a really fast flyer, or one that went really high? Maybe a combination of both? And would you design one with someone like John Collins in mind, using nothing but paper and your own super folding skills…or would you add enhancements like rubberbands and special fins? If you created a design on your own that worked really well, feel free to add a comment below and let us all know about your test runs and successes!

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