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Lesson Title: Designing Aircraft in Five Easy Steps - It's a Challenge!
May 11, 2012

Unit: Physical Science - Aeronautics

Grade Levels: 7-9

Connection To Curriculum: Problem Solving, Design and Forces and Motion

Teacher Prep Time: 45 minutes

Lesson Time Needed: 1-1.5 hours

Complexity Basic


Copies of pages 1-4 from downloadable Future Flight design poster (side #2); .pdf from website
Five-six sheets of copy paper for each team of two students
Cloth tape measure or yard stick for measuring test area
Standard (3 cm) paperclips; two or three boxes as needed
Colored markers (optional)

This lesson uses the NASA Future Flight Design Challenge activity and website to help students learn how NASA engineers develop and test experimental aircraft to solve a specific problem by using the engineering design process.

Students will:
• Solve an engineering design challenge based on specific criterion.
• Build and design four paper aircraft based on actual NASA experimental aircraft.
• Conduct and test their models and gather data of the results based on the design process and a specific challenge.
• Evaluate the performance of each aircraft based on engineering requirements.

First page of Designing Aircraft in 5 Easy Steps

Lesson Guide
Designing Aircraft Lesson
[246KB PDF file]



Lesson Activities and Sequence
The most effective sequence for this lesson is to start the students progressing through the online activity with the website in teams of two if computers are available. If Internet connection is not available, the teacher can download the entire website and show it as a teacher-directed activity with the hands-on poster activity lesson to follow.

  1. The Design Laboratory
    Students will be introduced to the basic design concepts of aeronautics by progressing through the following interactive labs: fuselage lab, propulsion lab, aeronautics lab, CFD lab and wind tunnel lab. The basic design challenge has students testing and gathering data for one of four different paper airplanes.
  2. The Design Center
    Students pick one of three aircraft designs and evaluate aircraft performance by choosing a variety of construction variables.
  3. The Poster Activity
    Students will take the lessons of the previous two sections and construct four different aircraft to accomplish a specific design challenge by applying the tools of the engineering design.

National Standards:

National Science Education Standards, NSTA
Science as Inquiry
• Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry.
• Understanding about scientific inquiry.

Physical Science
• Motions and forces.

Science and Technology
• Abilities of technological design understanding about science and technology.

ISTE NETS and Performance Indicators for Students, ISTE
Creativity and Innovation
• Use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues.
• Develop an understanding of the core concepts of technology
Communication and Collaboration
• Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.
• Develop an understanding of engineering design.
Research and Information Fluency
• Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.
• Process data and report results.
Technology Operations and Concepts
• Understand and use technology systems.
• Troubleshoot systems and applications.


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