This month our G3 crew had a lot of fun with some really simple flying machines…and a large Darth Vader target 🙂
The topic for the day was “flight,” and as we learned in my 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 10-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. [National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) provides some great information on flight 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 was created by rubber bands or our own arm 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…though as you’ll see in the video, the trick to the long throw was the throwing arm of a professional football player 🙂
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.
So, with John Collins and his fabulous designs as one source of inspiration, we then turned toward some great designs from some books in the Cheshire Public Library collection. My two favorite sources were:
- Bobby Mercer’s book, The Flying Machine Book: Build and Launch 35 Rockets, Gliders, Helicopters, Boomerangs, and More. [The photos aren’t the best, but the instructions or pretty straight-forward.]
- The Kid’s Guide to Paper Airplanes by Christopher L. Harbo. [The illustrations were really handy and there were some very fun variations.]
I displayed and demonstrated a variety of different paper aircraft for the G3 scientists to observe, and then I let them grab instructions for the aircraft that impressed them the most. I walked around the “folding station,” helping our scientists with one-on-one help as needed. [In the future, I’ll either try to get more assistants in the room with me to help with the folding and instruction, or I’ll focus on one specific aircraft with all and then let the scientists branch out to other folding when ready.] All scientists present had the opportunity to experiment with:
- Classic Dart (Harbo)
- Sonic Dart (Harbo)
- Hammerhead (my personal favorite!) (Harbo)
- Angry Finch (Harbo)
- Basic Straw Rocket (Mercer)
- Red Baron (Mercer)
- Criss-Cross Flyer (Mercer)
My personal favorite is the Hammerhead – a paper aircraft designed for abuse that glides beautifully (no pointing front end to get mangled after each crash landing!). After my description, that’s the aircraft a lot of the scientists started with. There were also a lot of Classic Darts and Sonic Darts floating through the air. During my earlier demonstration, the Angry Finch was a group favorite – for it’s unpredictable flight patterns – but it does require more advanced folding skills. There was even one G3 scientist that developed some mad skills with the Criss-Cross Flyer (which is designed to perform like a boomerang, to circle and return to the person launching it). The Criss-Cross Flyer takes some practice to use, but once you get the hang of it, it’s an addictive little aircraft:
We also had several scientists that created their own modified versions of paper aircrafts! [My favorite part of any program is when my scientists feel brave about testing their own designs/theories :)]
INSPIRATION FROM THE CONNECTICUT SCIENCE CENTER
For some added fun, I set up a station inspired by an activity I discovered at the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford, CT. For any of you that haven’t had a chance to visit the Science Center yet, be sure to pop in and check out “Forces in Motion” on Level 4. There are a lot of cool hands-on activities, but my favorite was the paper “copter” station. The Center set up large square fans/vents with air pushing straight up. With some simple folding, and a tiny cardboard square for some added weight, you can endlessly launch twirling copters into the air, modifying your designs for the best flights.
Using the Center as my inspiration – and borrowing the copter template I took home from the Center – I set up a similar station in our program room. I only had a small box fan – a larger one would have created better flights – but the overall result was still the same!
At day’s end, all scientists went home with instructions for making the flying craft we used in the program. Sadly, Darth Vader could not be saved (hahaha)…but that’s all part of the fun.