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Wright Brothers' Flying Machine

Classroom Activity

PDF

Objective
To test the effects of wing warping by manipulating the leading and trailing edges on the wings of a paper airplane.

Materials for each team
  • copy of the "What's Wing Warping" student handout (PDF or HTML)
  • copy of the "Paper Airplane Template" student handout (PDF or HTML)
  • copy of the "Flight Data Sheet" student handout (PDF or HTML)
  • 8 1/2-inch x 11-inch piece of tag board (125# basis weight)
  • scissors
  • large paper clip
Procedure
  1. Explain to students that they will simulate wing warping in this activity, a concept that the Wright brothers developed.

  2. Organize students into teams of two and distribute a copy of the "What's Wing Warping?," "Paper Airplane Template," and "Flight Data Sheet" student handouts and other materials to each team.

  3. Have students follow the directions on the "What's Wing Warping?" student handout to construct their airplanes. Make sure students attach a large paper clip to the nose of their planes to counterbalance the lift effect that will be created by the main wing. Also check that students sharply score the wing tips along the fold lines so that the wings can be easily adjusted.

  4. Review the challenge with the class. Students will fold the wing flaps up or down on the leading and trailing edges of their plane wings in order to get them to fly straight, right, and down.

  5. Find an open area where students can test their planes. Have team members take notes on how they choose to fold the wing flaps for each design and record their notes on their "Flight Data Sheet" student handouts. Instruct students to throw their planes gently when they conduct their trials.

  6. After students have completed the trials, meet as a class to share the results. Discuss students' answers to the questions listed on the "What's Wing Warping?" student handout.

  7. As an extension, ask students to make further modifications to their planes, such as changing the weight of the paper, changing the size or the position of the paper clip, or changing the design of the plane. Then have a contest to see whose plane can fly the farthest, turn the most sharply to the right, or complete the quickest dive.

Activity Answer

Changing the shape of the wings can have a dramatic effect on the flight path. The Wright brothers used wing warping to control their plane. Modern aircraft use movable sections on the wings called ailerons or spoilers.

Straight Flight
Folding the leading edge down on both wings provides greater stability for a long, straight flight.

To the Right
Folding only the leading edge down on the right wing makes the plane veer to the right. (Folding the right leading edge down and the right trailing edge up will also work.)

Dive Down
Folding the trailing edge up on both wings makes the plane dive down.

Sample Results

trial #

left wing
leading edge

right wing
leading edge

left wing
trailing edge

right wing
trailing edge

results

1

no change

no change

no change

no change

straight flight

2

no change

no change

down

down

strong upward pitch, quickly stalls

3

no change

no change

up

up

downward pitch

4

down

down

no change

no change

long, straight stable flight

5

no change

up

no change

no change

twirls in mid-air

6

no change

no change

no change

up

twirls in mid-air

7

no change

no change

no change

down

tends to stall

8

up

up

no change

no change

downward pitch

9

down

up

down

no change

downward pitch, minimum yaw

10

up

down

down

up

pronounced yaw to right, pitch downward into dive to right, twirls in mid-air


Links and Books

Web Sites

NOVA's Web Site—Wright Brothers' Flying Machine
www.pbs.org/nova/wright/
In this companion Web site for the NOVA program, find out why the Wrights were successful, manipulate the controls of an online Wright Flyer, read reports about the Wrights' earliest flights, learn about lift, and experiment with various airfoil designs.

History of Flight
www.flight100.org/history_intro.html
Provides a timeline of flight including profiles of famous aviators from around the world.

Plane Math
www.planemath.com/activities/pmenterprises/training.html
Explains how airfoils work, the forces involved in flight, and other key factors involved in getting a plane off the ground.

Wing Warping
wright.nasa.gov/airplane/warp.html
Provides an interactive that allows users to control the wing warping of a Wright Flyer and shows the forces associated with each configuration chosen.


Books

MacLeod, Elizabeth. The Wright Brothers: A Flying Start. Toronto: Kids Can Press, 2002.
Describes achievements of the Wright brothers and provides a historical context for their inventions.

Tobin, James. To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003.
Chronicles the lives of Orville and Wilbur Wright and details their contributions to aviation.


Standards

The "What's Wing Warping?" activity aligns with the following National Science Education Standards.

Grades 5-8

Physical Science

Science Standard B:
Physical Science

Motions and Forces:

  • The motion of an object can be described by its position, direction of motion, and speed.


Grades 9-12

Physical Science

Science Standard B:
Physical Science

Motions and Forces:

  • Objects change their motion only when a net force is applied. Laws of motion are used to calculate precisely the effects of forces on the motions of objects. The magnitude of the change in motion can be calculated using the relationship F = ma, which is independent of the nature of the force.

Classroom Activity Author

A teacher for 34 years, Steven Branting currently serves as a consultant for gifted and innovative programs in the Lewiston, Idaho, public schools and is a cartographer for the Lewis & Clark Rediscovery Project. Branting and his students have won international honors in physics, engineering and digital mapping.

Teacher's Guide
Wright Brothers' Flying Machine
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