
Supersonic Dream


Classroom Activity

Objective
To
understand how fuel use affects the mass of different planes during flight and
to determine the per person fuel cost of a transatlantic flight for seven
airplanes.
 copy of the "Fueling the Burn" student handout
(PDF or
HTML)
 copy of the "Aircraft Specifications" student handout
(PDF or
HTML)
 copy of the "Graphing Mass Change" student handout
(PDF or
HTML)
 calculator
Passengers on the Concorde could arrive at their transatlantic destination
twice as fast as regular jet travelers. But how much fuel did the Concorde use
to accomplish that feat? How did the Concorde's fuel use compare to that of
other aircraft? How did the Concorde compare in fuel cost per passenger for a
transatlantic flight to some more common jets? Students will explore these
questions and others in this activity.
Organize students into teams. Provide each team with copies of the student
handouts and review the activity with students. (You may want to note to
students that the statistics represent actual specifications for commercial
aircraft.)
Use the board to complete a sample graph of the data for one aircraft (see
the "Aircraft Specifications" student handout to find out how to determine the
calculations):
Calculate how much fuel is burned after one, two, and three hours and
record the mass changes.
Plot these points and draw a line that passes through the points.
Calculate the percent change in mass of the aircraft after three hours of
travel.
Some students may think that mass is actually lost as a plane's mass changes
during flight. Make sure students understand this is not true. Explain to
students that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. (Energy present in a
system remains constant.) In terms of this activity, fuel is burned and
converted into energy to fly the plane. Some energy is dissipated as heat; fuel
(mass) is lost from the plane, but not from the universe.
Have students complete their calculations and fill in their data tables.
(Note: If you would like, you can also have students calculate the slope of the
line [slope = rise/run]. The slope indicates fuel burn in relationship to the
mass of the plane.)
Now have students consider what it costs per passenger to fly across the
Atlantic. (Figures provided in the charts are based on presumptions that the
planes are flying the same distance under the same conditions.) As the weight
per gallon of jet fuel varies during different seasons and in different
climates, students are given the conservative estimate for the weight of one
U.S. gallon of jet fuel (2.715 kilograms). Ask teams to complete the
calculations on the "Passenger Counts" chart and display their results in a bar
graph.
Discuss the results as a class. Ask students why it is important to consider
how fast an aircraft burns fuel. Why is it important to consider takeoff
weight? Why is it important to consider the percent change in mass of an
aircraft in flight? What are some factors that have an effect on aircraft fuel
consumption? Which plane has the highest per passenger fuel use? Which has the
lowest? (See Activity Answer for more information.)
Note to students that the amount of fuel burned per hour and the number of
passengers are only two of many variables that must be taken into account when
determining a plane's economic efficiency. Have students name three additional
factors that would contribute to determining if an airplane is an economical
investment for an airline company (i.e., safety record of the plane, speed at
which the plane travels, and repair and maintenance costs).
As an extension, have students compare the fuel burn of military aircraft.
How is it different from that of commercial aircraft? What might account for
the differences in fuel burn?
The
Federal Aviation Administration completes calculations for aircraft hourly fuel
burn and considers how fuel burn increases when there is additional weight on a
plane. (Hourly fuel burn calculations include an average of climb, cruise, and
descend fuel burn rates.) Extra weight can impact fuel burn because the engines
must work harder to maintain flight.
Students can infer from their graph the rate of fuel burn in relationship to
the average takeoff mass of an aircraft. The Concorde's fuel burn rate is
greatest.
It is important to consider how fast an aircraft burns fuel because fuel has
mass and alterations in mass impact flight. Because the mass of the plane has
changed after the first hour of flight, there could be a slight difference in
rate of fuel burn after each successive hour. (This difference is not
calculated in this activity.) The fuel burn rate also has implications for the
range in which an aircraft can fly.
It is important to consider the percent change in mass of an aircraft in flight
because balance is an important aspect of flight. Changes in mass have an
effect on the balance of some planes.
The initial mass of the plane affects how much fuel burn is needed to produce a
increase in percent mass change. A greater amount of fuel burn per hour is
required to increase the percent mass change for more massive planes than for
less massive planes. This is why the slope of the line for Boeing 747100 is
greater than for Airbus 300600 even though the percent mass change is the
same.
Three major factors that have an effect on aircraft fuel consumption are the
mass of the plane, speed of the plane, and resistance (wind). Based on fuel
calculations alone, the Boeing 7374 is the most fuel efficient per passenger;
the Concorde is the least fuel efficient per passenger.
Graphing Mass Change
Fuel Burn
Aircraft Type 
Engines 
Average Takeoff Mass with Fuel (kg) 
Fuel Burn Rate (gal/h) 
Weight of Gallon of Fuel (kg) 
Mass of Fuel Burned (kg/h) 
Hour 1 Mass of Plane (kg) 
Hour 2 Mass of Plane (kg) 
Hour 3 Mass of Plane (kg) 
Boeing 747100 
4 
340,190 
3,638 
2.7215 
9,901 
330,289 
320,388 
310,487 
Boeing DC103 
3 
259,450 
3,130 
2.7215 
8,518 
250,932 
242,414 
233,896 
Concorde 
4 
185,062 
6,771 
2.7215 
18,427 
166,635 
148,208 
129,781 
Airbus 300600 
2 
161,022 
1,678 
2.7215 
4,567 
156,455 
151,888 
147,321 
Boeing 727200 
3 
95,026 
1,844 
2.7215 
5,018 
90,008 
84,990 
79,972 
Boeing 7374 
2 
64,636 
792 
2.7215 
2,155 
62,481 
60,326 
58,171 
BAE 1462 
4 
40,993 
817 
2.7215 
2,223 
38,770 
36,547 
34,324 
Aircraft Type 
Mass of Fuel Burned After 3 Hours (kg) 
Percent Mass Change 
Boeing 747100 
29,703 
8.73 
Boeing DC103 
25,554 
9.85 
Concorde 
55,281 
29.87 
Airbus 300600 
13,701 
8.51 
Boeing 727200 
15,054 
15.84 
Boeing 7374 
6,465 
10.00 
BAE 1462 
6,669 
16.27 
Passenger Counts
Aircraft Type 
Fuel Burn Rate (gal/h) 
Average Airborne Speed (km/h) 
Amount of Fuel Burned (gal/km) 
Passengers and Crew 
Distance per Passenger per Gallon (km/gal) 
Distance Traveled (km) 
Gallons per Passenger (London to New York) 
Boeing 747100 
3,638 
825.6 
4.4 
423 
96.1 
5,547 
57.7 
Boeing DC103 
3,130 
828.8 
3.8 
283 
74.5 
5,547 
74.5 
Concorde 
6,771 
2,160.0 
3.1 
109 
35.2 
5,547 
157.6 
Airbus 300600 
1,678 
740.3 
2.3 
274 
119.1 
5,547 
46.6 
Boeing 727200 
1,844 
703.3 
2.6 
157 
60.4 
5,547 
91.8 
Boeing 7374 
792 
664.7 
1.2 
150 
125.0 
5,547 
44.4 
BAE 1462 
817 
463.5 
1.8 
92 
51.1 
5,547 
108.6 
Gallons Per Passenger
Web Sites
NOVA Web Site—Supersonic Dream
www.pbs.org/nova/concorde/
Find articles, interviews, interactive activities, and resources in this
companion Web site to the program.
How Concordes Work
www.howstuffworks.com/concorde.htm
Describes how the Concorde worked and compares it to other jets.
Last Concorde Flights Touch Down
www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/europe/04/10/biz.trav.concorde.quest/
Includes a special report that covers the rise and fall of the Concorde.
Concorde History
www.concordesst.com/history/historyindex.html
Presents a time line and key events section and includes photographs that span
more than 20 years of the plane's history.
Books
Calvert, Brian.
Flying Concorde.
Osceola, Wisconsin: Motorbooks International, 2002.
Portrays the history and production of the Concorde and contains technical
specifications of the aircraft.
Endres, Gunter.
Concorde.
Osceola, Wisconsin: Motorbooks International, 2001.
Examines Concorde's history, design production, and service.
Grant, R.G.
Flight: 100 Years of Aviation.
New York: Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 2002.
Presents an historical view of aviation that includes photos focusing on
aircraft design.
Owen, Kenneth.
Concorde: Story of a Supersonic Pioneer.
London: Science Museum, 2002.
Traces the development of the Concorde.
The
"Fueling the Burn" activity aligns with the following National Science
Education Standards and Principles and Standards for School Mathematics.
Grades 58

Science Standard B: Physical Science


Transfer of Energy:
In most chemical and nuclear reactions, energy is transferred into or out
of a system. Heat, light, mechanical motion, or electricity might be involved
in such transfers.
Motions and forces:
Mathematics Standards:
 Algebra
 Data Analysis and Probability
Grades 912

Science Standard B: Physical Science


Chemical reactions:
Conservation of energy and the increase in disorder:
The total energy of the universe is constant. Energy can be transferred
by collisions in chemical and nuclear reactions, by light waves and other
radiations, and in many other ways. However, it can never be destroyed. As
these transfers occur, the matter involved becomes steadily less ordered.
Mathematics Standards:
 Algebra
 Data Analysis and Probability
Classroom Activity Author
Developed
by WGBH Educational Outreach staff.

