NYC Aerodynamics Projects from our Engineering Summer Camp

This summer, we challenged our 3rd-8thgrade students to use the engineering design process in multiple in-depth ways throughout Summer Camp. During this time, we taught curricula spanning from aerodynamics, to simple machines, to mobile phone application programming. In this post, I’ll write about our Aerodynamics and Flight designs—hopefully you find some inspiration to try these at home or in your own STEM programs!


Aerodynamics and Flight Week

We asked our students to explore aerodynamics by working on models that were capable of flight in various ways. Throughout the week, campers viewed bird bones at the American Museum of Natural History, learned about different bird body structures from ornithologist Peter Capainolo, and visited the NYC Wild Bird Fund to interact with live birds. We sought to increase our campers’ understanding about flight through informative experiences outside of the studio and by the trail-and-error experiential style of learning they were able to engage in at our studio. Here are some of the designs we made.

Aerodynamics and Flight Designs

Walk Along Gliders

Students created small Styrofoam/paper gliders that used the draft created by a 2’ by 3’ piece of cardboard to stay in the air. This may sound simple, but getting the right shape of glider is tricky and takes a lot of designing. Check out this video to see how these designs look in action.

Details: The walk along gliders took about 4 hours to complete with multiple iterations of glider shapes. To create this design at home, be sure to use very thin sheets of Styrofoam or phonebook paper and be sure that both sides of your glider are completely symmetrical. The gliders should stay pretty small (less than 6 inches) and it helps to check that the glider retains unwrinkled surfaces–re-flatten it after each test.

Propeller-Powered Vehicles Capable of Flight

Students were given two helium balloons and asked to use the torque generated from a rubber band motor (a rubber band twisted through a straw) to create a propeller that kept the balloons afloat.

Details: This design works best when kids are given step-by-step directions on how to make the motors—loop a rubber band over a bamboo stick and then stretch it through a straw with a washer hot-glued to the opposite end (of the straw). Once stretched through a straw, loop the end of the rubber band onto another bamboo skewerwhen you twist the rubber band, the side with the washer attached to it should spin and provide torque for propellers to be attached. The propellers can be made from a wide variety of materials, including paper plates, plastic, and Styrofoam.

Kites Made from Household Items

Campers created kites out of trash bags, bamboo skewers, dowels and any other materials they thought would fly. 

Details: This design works best when the kites have a lot of surface area and dihedrals, maybe even tails (depending on the shape). A nice way to encourage designs other than diamond kites is to have kids research different shapes beforehand. An easy and cheap string idea is to attach fishing line.
Hopefully one of these designs inspire you to create at home! Also, remember that you can check out many designs related to flight on our Curiosity Machine website.
2 replies
  1. randy
    randy says:

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