from Come Fly With Me – Exploring Science through aviation and aerospace concepts.

SUBJECT: Science
GRADE: 7,8,9
GROUP SIZE: Individual and Large
TIME: 2-45 minute periods
TYPE OF ACTIVITY: Student Investigation
CONCEPTS: Lifting Body Descent
SKILLS: Modeling Experimenting Collecting Data
Objective: To demonstrate the way paragliders work.

Materials: Three 1/4″ dowels 12 inches long; heavy tissue paper or wrapping paper; tape; scissors; knife; electric drill with a 1/8″ or 1/16″ bit.

paraglider construction illustration

Teacher Background Information:

Parachutes have been used in the recovery of manned spacecraft and to slow jets landing at high speeds. The parachute systems for recovering space vehicles have been very workable but parachutes do present the problem of maneuverability. NASA has been experimenting with a paraglider which would be maneuverable and create lift. This device could be used to land space vehicles at a predetermined area.

Using the drill, make a small hole in one end of each dowel, about 1/2″ from the end. Using the knife, taper the ends with the holes in them. Tie the three ends together so they form a fan shape. Cut pieces of the paper to fasten over the dowels, making sure you allow some slack so the glider has two billowing sections. Tie a string to the end of each dowel and one to the front section so a weight can be tied to the strings.

Take the class outside and experiment with various weights tied to the paraglider. How much weight can it hold and still provide a safe descent? Have students discuss what variables have to be considered in constructing a paraglider.
Extension: Ask the students to construct a paraglider capable of returning an egg to the ground safely from a 30 foot height with little or no protective wrapping around the egg.

Adapted from educational materials available from NASA Kennedy Space Center Teacher Resource Room

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