Project 4

How do air planes fly?



This project was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant Number 1640228. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Dazhi Yang at or use our Contact Form.


This project-based scientific inquiry project: How Do Airplanes Fly? is centered on airplane design and flight control components. It requires students to apply knowledge from physics, mathematics, engineering, technology and computing to solve problems. In this project, students work in small groups to explore and research different types of airplanes, key concepts of why an airplane can fly, turn and be stable, flight control components, and the associated physics and engineering principles. Then, students design a type of an airplane and test their design.


Please refer to the weekly activities (such as Week 1 Session 1 in the left sidebar and Resources) for detailed information on how to use this project either in a classroom or an informal setting such as in community centers' after-school programs. The twice weekly sessions were originally designed to be 90 minutes in length, including a 10 minute break in the middle of the session. See photos of prior implementations on the projects' photo pages.


In groups of 4-6, students will explore and investigate how airplanes fly. Then, they will design and build various airplanes and study effects on them and present on their experience and new found knowledge.

Subject Content

Engineering, Science, Math, Computer Science, Technology

Learning Objectives

1. Students will explore and investigate how airplanes fly.

2. Students will design and build various airplanes and study the effects of the four forces on these airplanes.

Final Products

Completed airplanes, group presentation on their experience and newfound knowledge

Driving Question

How do airplanes fly?

Sample Sub-questions

1. How does an airplane fly?

2. How does an airplane stay in the sky?

3. What are the four forces that affect flight?

4. How do you control an airplane? Roll? Yaw? Pitch?

5. How do propellers work?

6. How do we design an airplane for a successful flight?

7. How can we test our airplanes for longest distance and air time?


1. Determine what makes an airplane flies.

2. Research information on airplane parts and design.

3. Explain the four forces that affect flight.

4. Research wings and the importance of specific wing design.

5. Build paper airplanes.

6. Design styrofoam gliders.

7. Create rubber band propellers.

8. Test airplane designs in a wind tunnel.

9. Test airplane designs for distance and flight time.


1. Formative (for revision purpose): Weekly evaluation of the students on their understanding of the activities completed during the week - both written and oral.(for example if they can solve the problems in the worksheet. )

2. Summative: Assessment/evaluation on students learning at the end of the 8 weeks project, for example the Final Airplane Designs and Presentations.

Tools & Resources

Project website, Flight project guide, learning videos, paper, styrofoam, rubber bands, wind tunnel, various websites and simulations

Standards Aligned

1. Science: National Science Education Standards (NSES, 1996)

2. Engineering: NEXT Generation Science Standards (NGSS, 2013)

3. Information and Communication Technology: Idaho Content Standards (ICS, 2017)

4. Math: Common Core State Standard (CCSS, 2010)

5. 21st Century Skills: The Four C's (P21, 2002)