School-University Partnership Initiative (SUPI)

Wingin' It

The main objective of this workshop is to introduce the concept of aeroplane Flight, by teaching the forces of Lift, Drag, Thrust and Weight, and the concept of ‘stability’, which is essential to aircraft remaining in the sky without going out of control. The workshop adopts a practical, hands-on approach after introducing the subject of flight through a brief history of the pioneers of aviation (George Cayley, Wright brothers, da Vinci…).

The session is planned to last 1.5 hours, but can be shortened or lengthened to accommodate other time slots. Based on a 1.5 hour session, the structure is as follows:

- 10 min: Intro. Man’s quest to fly, brief history of aviation.

- 20 mins: Teaching. Interactive session using a portable wind tunnel to demonstrate (by physical feel) Lift and Drag; how wings exchange momentum with the air in order to produce lift (through Newton’s laws); explanation of ‘stability’, and its importance to safe flight.

- 30 mins: Design, Make, Test. Pupils take learning outcomes and apply to foam wings, to make them fly. Each pupil makes foam wings from A4 sized piece of 3mm foam. Wings fly when a ballast of metal washers is stuck to the front, causing the centre of gravity to be in front of the centre of lift (this is simple to grasp). Pupils can optimise their design through test flights, adding more washers if necessary.

- 15 mins: Flying competition. Pupils take their designs and compete in three competitions: endurance (time in the air), range (distance flown), speed (recorded with a speed calculator smartphone app).

- 10 mins: Plenary session. Discussion about designs – why do some designs fly faster than others, why do some stay in the air longer? Comparison with real aircraft (e.g. fighter jet vs. glider). Q & A.

- 5 mins: Evaluation.

Learning objectives/session outcomes

This workshop is intended to Inspire, Instruct, and Inform pupils about Aerospace Engineering. In particular, how basic concepts such as force diagrams can help to make an aeroplane fly – i.e. a real application of the physics they are learning at school. Additionally they use real tools for aerospace research equipment (wind tunnel), and learn flight through a fun activity!

Learning outcomes in summary:

- History of aviation pioneers.

- New STEM concepts: Lift, Drag, Momentum, Stability, Centre of gravity, centre of lift.

- Engineering processes: Design, Make, Test.

- Use of University research tools: wind tunnels.

- Application of KS4 / KS3 physics syllabus.

Inspire pursuit of STEM subjects at A-Level.

Intended age group/Key Stage

KS4, but adaptable to KS3 syllabus.

Subject/Curriculum links

Links into introduction of Newton’s Laws in KS4 Physics, in “Forces and Motion”.


Yes, the concepts taught can be simplified to KS3.


Equipment: Scissors, rulers, whiteboard etc. (for teaching)

Location: Classroom for teaching, design & make; sports hall or similar for testing and for competition.


Dr Nick Bojdo, Honourary Lecturer in Aerospace Engineering. Email for more information.