Design for Flight

Submitting Organization: Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Grade Level: 3rd Grade

Subject Area: Engineering 

Standards Alignment: Next Generation Science Standards



Objective: Students will recognize the four forces of flight & determine their interaction with design to influence an object in flight.
Assessment: Students fly rotocopters and identify the four forces that influence the rotocopters in flight.

  • Students examine the elements of the natural world that influenced plane design.
  • Students create rotocopters, test them, add weight & adjust the “blades”– making observations & inferences about how they work/how adjustments in weight, blade angle, etc. impact function.
  • Discuss drag, thrust, lift & gravity, and watch Four Forces video.
  • Once students are comfortable with the four forces and how those forces act on an airplane, re-test roto-copters and note how the four forces combine with the design for function.

Discussion Questions:

  • What things in nature fly?
  • What did humans observe and copy to achieve flight?
  • What parts of birds were inspiration for plane design?
  • What does an aircraft need to fly? (Chances are students will list physical items like wings, wheels, propeller, etc.)
  • Tell students: To fly, an aircraft needs these parts, but it is the four forces that permit the aircraft to fly.
  • List the four forces and say that this program will involve learning about the forces and how they affect the use of different aircraft.

Resources Needed: 

  • Pencils
  • Rotocopter cutouts (you can find a free template here)
  • Paperclips
  • Coloring materials (optional)
  • Other materials, like models and airfoil cross sections, can be used based on availability and educator preference.
  • Bird puppet (optional)
  • Model of an airplane (jet or propelled)

Links to further resources: