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Drag it, lift it, thrust it, weigh it

Foray into the fundamentals of flight as we explore the four factors that affect all flying machines.
Plan a session with this activity

You will need

  • Pens or pencils
  • Scissors
  • Glue sticks
  • Craft materials (for example, tissue paper, pipe cleaners, stickers)
  • Specific equipment for each experiment (see instructions)
Shape templates
PDF – 315.5KB
Teardrop wing template
PDF – 147.3KB
Fold a paper plane
PDF – 162.7KB

Before you begin

  • This activity is in a sequence, so you should do each part in the order they’re in below. You could do this over one long session or split them over two or more sessions. This should also give you time to get together all the equipment needed for each part of the activity sequence.
  • Some points to remind everyone of:
    • Drag is resistance from air. Because a plane is cutting through the air very quickly, every part of the plane feels air resistance, even the engines.
    • The engines provide thrust to move the plane forwards but not necessarily upwards.
    • Lift is the force that keeps a plane in the air, despite the weight which is pulling it down.

It's a drag

You will need

  • A4 paper
  • Tables and chairs
  • Sticky tape
  • Stopwatch or sticky tape
  • Modelling clay (optional)
  • Weighing scales (optional)
  • Copies of the ‘Shape templates’ sheets


Be air aware

You will need

  • 300ml jar
  • Half-gallon jar
  • Toothpick/small drinking straw
  • Two balloons
  • Two rubber bands
  • Sticky tape


Give me a lift

You will need

  • 2l plastic bottle
  • Paperclips
  • Polystyrene block (small enough to fit inside the bottle)
  • Electric fan or cold-blowing hairdryer
  • Craft knife
  • String
  • 33cm by 12cm (or similar) block of wood
  • Small crosshead screwdriver or knitting needle
  • Elastic bands
  • Copies of the ‘Teardrop wing template’ sheets


Paper planes

You will need

  • A4 paper
  • 40-50mm safety-clip or bulldog clip
  • Sticky tape
  • Copies of the ‘Fold a paper plane’ sheets


In this sequence of activities, we saw drag, lift, weight and thrust in action. Did seeing these properties in action make them easier to understand than the written definitions? How did working in groups also make it easier to understand these processes and the properties themselves? Group-work made it easier to measure and record results, as there was always someone to check that your predictions were in line with the science.

It was important to follow the instructions in the order they were given, change one thing at a time and make predictions on what would happen before testing. Why is this? Answer: to make sure the results are consistent, to understand how one change affects the experiment as a whole and to check that everyone has an idea of how each property affects the experiment.


Rubbish and recycling

All items should be clean and suitable for this activity.


Supervise young people, and only do science activities that are advised and age appropriate for your section. Test activities first, to make sure you’re confident you can lead them safely. Use protective clothing where necessary.


Supervise young people appropriately when they’re using scissors. Store all sharp objects securely, out of the reach of young people

Glue and solvents

Supervise young people appropriately when they’re using glue and solvent products. Make sure there’s plenty of ventilation. Be aware of any medical conditions which could be affected by glue or solvent use and make adjustments as needed.

All activities must be safely managed. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.