When we look at large airliners and helicopters, it seems
impossible for such huge objects to lift off the ground and fly. Flight
is possible because of four forces (pushes or pulls) that act on the
Two of the forces are lift and weight. Lift is the upward
force that works against the force of weight, the force that holds the
aircraft down. Lift is created by the effect of airflow over and under
the wings of airplanes or the blades of helicopters. Wings are usually
thicker on the front edge and thinner on the back edge. This shape
allows the air moving over the wing to move faster, and consequently,
to have less pressure. The air moving under the wing reveals more
slowly and results in more pressure pushing up on the wing. Thus, the
force pushing up on the wing is greater that the force pushing down.
The other two forces of flight are thrust and drag. Thrust is
the push or the pull forward that causes aircraft to move. The engines
create thrust. Drag is an opposite force that slows the aircraft. Drag
is caused by the surfaces of the aircraft that interrupt or deflect the
smooth airflow around the aircraft. Some things that affect the amount
of drag are the flaps; the ailerons; and the size, shape, and position
of the wings.
As you introduce or review the forces of flight, ask questions
to focus students' attention on a diagram with arrows to show the
direction associated with each of the four forces. For example, ask
which force pulls things to the ground.
As you present the Rescue Mission Game
activity sheet, introduce the game students will be playing. They are
pilots of rescue helicopters. Their mission is to fly their helicopters
to the top of a mountain to rescue lost hikers.
As you discuss the Rescue Mission Game
activity sheet, explain how the spinner determines in which direction
to move. For example, if the pointer lands on Lift, students move their
helicopter up one space. Ask them the following questions:
In which direction they should move if it lands on Drag. [Left]
On Thrust? [Right]
On Weight? [Down]
When students cannot move in the direction indicated by the spinner, they stay in the same position for that turn.
Show students the starting point of the game and ask them to
think about the flight path for their mission. Ask students the
In which directions they must go to reach the mountaintop. [Up and to the right]
Which forces will be most helpful. [Lift and thrust] Why?
Developing the Activity
Part 1: Getting Ready for the Mission
As you discuss the Rescue Mission Game
activity sheet, explain that since the lost hikers are cold and hungry,
the pilot needs to get to the top of the mountain quickly. Ask students
to compare the spinners.
Use the following questions to guide the class conversation:
- How are the spinners alike? How are they different?
- Which spinner do you think will help your helicopter get to the mountaintop the fastest? Why do you think so?
- How can we test the spinners to check our predictions?
After discussing their suggestions, ask students to work with a
partner to spin each spinner 50 times and to record all results in a
tally table. Spinner C Tally Table
When all data have been collected, help students display their data in bar graphs.
Results of 50 Spins
Each bar graph should be discussed and interpreted. Help
students see that on spinner C, all forces have the same chance for the
pointer to land on them. Since there is 1 chance out of 4 equal chances
that the pointer will land on Lift, the probability is ?.
Use the following questions to guide the next discussion.
Compare the regions in spinner C. How many of the same size do you see? 
How many different forces are on spinner C? 
Is it less likely, equally likely, or more likely that the pointer will land on Lift than on Weight, Drag, or Thrust?
What is the likelihood, or probability, of landing on Thrust? On Drag? On Weight?
Does the pointer have the same chance of landing on each force? Why do you think that?
Next, ask students to look closely at their graphs
for spinner C to interpret the results of their experiment.
Since the probability is the same for each force on spinner C, what should the graphs look like? Why?
Do your bar graphs show this?
Which bars are taller? Shorter?
What does the bars' appearance show you?
Repeat this analysis process with each spinner.
When it is your turn how can you use your graphs to help you decide which spinner to use on that turn?
Students should keep all spinners for the
Rescue Mission Game.
Part 2: Playing the Rescue-Mission Game
Introduce or review how to read and write ordered pairs to name
a location on a coordinate grid. Practice using the spinners to
determine moves on the game board. Ask students to predict how many
spins will be needed to reach the top of the mountain.
Students then play the game with a partner to see which
helicopter can rescue the lost hikers on the mountaintop first. As they
take turns, students should record the following data:
- Which spinner is selected for the turn
- Where the pointer lands (lift, thrust, weight, or drag)
- How the student moves (up, right, down, or left)
- The ordered pair that names the point to which they move
|Turn Number ||I Selected This Spinner ||Pointer Landed On ||Direction in Which I Moved ||Place Where I Landed |
|1 ||C ||Lift ||Up ||(0,1) |
|2 ||D ||Thrust ||Right ||(1,1) |
|3 ||D ||Lift ||Up ||(1,2) |
Students can record the flight path on the game-board grid by
plotting the points for each student in different colors. When
finished, students can connect the points to show the flight path.