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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Explore Aviation

Explore aviation by creating a flight craft of the future!

When people first dreamed about flying, they looked to the skies for inspiration from nature. National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductees Orville and Wilbur Wright, who invented the first airplane, studied how buzzards tilted their wings to figure out how to control and steer a plane. Check out one of the Wright Brothers’ test flights using this link, then get set to do some aircraft designing of your own!


Materials Needed

  • Craft items (i.e., aluminum foil, construction paper, craft sticks, paper cups and plates, pipe cleaners, straws, yarn)
  • Markers
  • Recyclables (i.e., cardboard boxes, plastic containers)
  • Scissors
  • Tape


Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Take a moment to search online and investigate images of various types of aircraft that have been designed over time. Check out aircraft designs from science fiction books and movies too, such as hoverboards and flying cars.
  2. Find inspiration from nature! Head outside and explore what patterns, shapes and features you see in the animals and plants around you. Experiment with how different shapes are carried in the wind by tossing balls, flying discs and other outdoor toys, or by blowing dandelion seeds and leaves.
  1. Sketch your futuristic aircraft design. Consider:
    • What innovative features will your aircraft have?
    • What safety features might you add to your prototype?
    • How do you think aircraft will fly in the future?
    • How is nature inspiring your design?
  2. Gather recyclables and craft materials from around your home and build a prototype of your futuristic aircraft.
  3. Share your design with friends and family!


What Are We Discovering?

President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Orville Wright’s birthday to be National Aviation Day to honor the Wright Brothers’ invention of the first airplane! The Wright Brothers were the first to achieve the powered, sustained and controlled flight of an airplane with the Wright Flyer in 1903. Before they tried to make a powered airplane, they first built and experimented with three biplane gliders.

Gliding happens when an object or animal is soaring or drifting on the wind without creating more thrust, or power pushing forward. Birds glide when they stop flapping their wings, and airplanes glide when their engines are not on. While there are many types of airplanes that have powered flight, only four types of animals have ever existed that can truly fly and not just glide — insects, pterosaurs, birds and bats. These four types of animals all have similar wing shapes to each other and to an airplane! This special wing shape is the best for creating more lift, while also reducing drag. This makes it easier to fly higher and farther!


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