Air Pressure Homeschool Science Experiment – How Airplanes Fly

Homeschool science education is fun! It is more fun when you can use things found around the house to demonstrate some naturally occurring phenomena such as air pressure. Flying a toy plane is every child’s dream, and if it is combined with education, it can promote better understanding.

Before we go into the fun learning activities that you could co-ordinate with a homeschool science program, let me teach you some principles on which airplanes fly. There are some forces working on an airplane as it flies. They are the forces of thrust and drag and lift and gravity.


Thrust moves the airplane forward, and is provided by the jet engine and the propeller. Drag is a force of resistance that works in the opposite direction of thrust and slows down the airplane. Lift works in the upward direction and is produced by the wings. Gravity works in a direction opposite to the lift and pulls the plane down due to its weight. The right balance between these four forces keeps the plane flying.


Airplanes are shaped in such a way so as to minimize drag caused by air pressure, in order to allow them to glide smoothly. When air hits a moving object having a smaller area, it does not cause much resistance since there is less air pressure working on that object. On the other hand, when air hits a moving object with a larger area, it causes resistance as there is a higher pressure working on that object.


This is why airplanes are aerodynamically designed with cone-shaped noses so that the air pressure on the airplane body is reduced. This reduces drag and allows them to glide effortlessly through the air.


As an airplane moves with great speed on the runway, the wings are tilted upwards, increasing the air pressure on them. Therefore the airplane is lifted off the runway and rises higher. The angle of the wings determines how high the airplane will lift. In the same way, air pressure is used to maneuver the plane using the tail rudder.


You can blend the following fun activity with your homeschool science program. Buy a balsa wood toy airplane at your local store or drug store. As we assemble the airplane, we will experiment how it flies as we add each part.


To begin with, fly only the airplane body without the fins or wings. You will find that it is no better than a shoe flung in the air. The thrust is of no use, as it cannot make the right use of air pressure to fly.


Now attach only the large wing and fly the airplane. Your plane will seem to lift but then somersaults or plummets to the ground.

Next attach the horizontal stabilizer tail and fly it with a curve. You will notice that the somersaults have stopped but there is a zigzag movement.


Attach the vertical tail or rudder and now check out your toy airplane. This time you will notice a successful flying spell without any fishtail movements.


Here’s something for you to figure out on your own. Fly the airplane without the metal nose clip and see what happens. What is the purpose of this metal clip?


If you enjoyed your airplane lesson and experiment, let me tell you that I have loads of similar activities to enhance your homeschool science learning. To get great science experiments and activities visit the free “Homeschool Parent’s Guide to Teaching Science” at the link below.