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Lesson Title: Heavy Lifting Air Engines
May 11, 2012

Unit: Engineering - Rocketry

Grade Levels: 7-9

Connection To Curriculum: Physical Science, Engineering/Technology and Mathematics

Teacher Prep Time: 30 minutes

Lesson Time Needed: 1-2 hours

Complexity Basic

Keywords: jets, airplanes, balloons, aeronautics, thrust, rockets, vectoring, Newton's Laws of Motion


Large binder clips (one per launch pad)
Fishing line or smooth string
Long balloons (see note on next page about sources)
Bathroom size (3 ounce) paper cup
2 straight drinking straws
50 small paper clips
Sandwich-size plastic bag
Masking tape
Balloon hand pumps (optional)
Wooden spring-type clothespins (optional)

One 8- by- 10-inch F–15 ACTIVE template on page 56, photocopied on cardstock, 1 per student
1 balloon per student
1 flex-neck bendable plastic straw
1 small rubberband per student
1 pair of scissors per student
Three 8-inch pieces of string per student
One copy of the Student Work Sheet per student

Students use balloons to demonstrate concepts applied by jet and rocket engines to supply thrust for movement.

Students will:
• Observe how unequal pressure creates power.
• Explain that air power can help airplanes fly.
• Construct a working model of an air engine.
• Construct balloon-powered rockets to launch the greatest payload possible to the classroom ceiling.

First page of Heavy Lifting Air Engines

Lesson Guide
Heavy Lifting Lesson
[76KB PDF file]



Lesson Activities and Sequence

  1. Air Engines
    The students will use an inflated balloon to exert the forces to propel it down a fishing line test track. Long narrow balloons (not the type used for "balloon animals") are preferred.
    Keywords: airplanes, balloons, aeronautics, vectoring, Newton's Laws of Motion

  2. Vectoring
    Students will use the concepts from Air Engines and apply vectoring or directional steering of the air that leaves the balloon using a bendable straw.
    Keywords: jets, balloons, aeronautics, thrust, rockets, Newton's Laws of Motion

  3. Heavy Lifting
    As the track shifts to a vertical lift, the second law of motion becomes more apparent as added mass requires more force or thrust to create the same acceleration and/or distance traveled. Students add weight to their balloon rocket and make adjustments to their design to lift the greatest amount of weight at the greatest distance.

    While paper clips are approximately a gram weight, if scales are available with small mass increments, an added skill of measurement and quantifying your results is added to the outcomes.
    Keywords: engineering design process, Newton's Laws of Motion, engine, gravity, thrust, weight, rocket, design challenge

National Standards:

National Science Education Standards, NSTA
Science as Inquiry
• Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry.
Physical Science
• Position and motion of objects.
• Motions and forces.
Science and Technology
• Abilities of technological design.

Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, NCTM
Math as Problem Solving
Number and Operations
Data Analysis and Probability
Reasoning and Proof

ISTE NETS and Performance Indicators for Students, ISTE
Creativity and Innovation
Research and Information Fluency
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making


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Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator