Emission Control and Air Pollution Module

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Day 4-5: What makes an Airplane Fly?

How does an Airplane Fly? This is a basic question that we will investigate here. A review of the basic concept we have learned so far is that lift happens as a result of Bernoulli's principle: a moving fluid exerts less pressure than one at rest.

Seven Activities to prepare to answer this question.
An experiment to compare Glider Flight Characteristics
The Four Aerodynamic Forces

Seven Activities

  1. Find someone who works in aircraft design, has built a model airplane, or has built a full-size airplane. Interview the person and ask how s/he got interested in it, what it's like to design and build an aircraft (full size or model), and how the person funded the enterprise. If you are able you may want to visit the company, homebuilder's garage, or model competition. Write a brief report of some of the things you have learned.

  2. Choose two airplanes of similar purpose, such as jets, passenger planes, fighter planes, or small general aviation aircraft, and compare them. How do they differ? What are the advantages of each design? You can choose historic aircraft from the 1920s and 1930s and find out how well they flew and what they were used for. Use the List of resources

  3. What can you infer about the development of modern aviation. Bessie Coleman, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, were some of the pioneers. You could research the library or the Internet to find more about them.

  4. Research a flying machine of any type from the 1920s or 1930s. How well did it fly? What was it used for? Explain how the design affects lift.

  5. Draw any creature or object that flies. Illustrate how the four forces of flight, lift, gravity, thrust, and drag, act upon it.

  6. Work in small groups to design two or three different paper airplanes (or polystyrene airplanes) with a rudder, flaps, and ailerons. Explain and demonstrate how these affect the glider's flight. Use the paper gliders also to explain and demonstrate the ideas of angle of attack, velocity and wing area.Watch an episode from one of the "Star Trek" series or the "Star Wars" movies. Note how various spacecraft travel in space. How many errors can you find?

  7. Explain what happens to the speed of a fighter aircraft when it fires its weapons. Keep in mind that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

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Angle of Attack

The angle of attack is the angle between the chord line of a wing--the straight line connecting the leading edge of a wing to its trailing edge--and the relative wind direction.

Think about the following question in your group:
What happens to the lift if the angles of attack is increased?