AE Unit 1
Aerodynamics Introduction
Welcome to Unit 1

This unit will start with some of the principles and mathematics behind flight and aerodynamics. You’ll get a chance to learn about how things fly, how people control flight, and the mathematics it takes to calculate aerodynamics. Over the course of the unit, you’re expected to learn the following

  • What physical properties make flight possible and how do planes control that flight
  • What mathematics can describe factors of flight like lift and drag
  • How to simulate aerodynamics in a computer
  • How to build and test airfoils using a wind tunnel 

Your work in Aerospace Engineering this unit will set the foundation for much more complex tasks later on. You’ll need to use a lot of trial and error as you test your prototypes and get things working. As you start our class, you’ll go through three major steps:

  • STEP 1: Learn the basic vocabulary and principles that make flight possible, as well as what mechanisms have been designed to control it
  • STEP 2: Use math and physics to calculate the forces involved in flight
  • STEP 3: Design and create your own airfoils and test their properties in the wind tunnel

When you’re done, you’ll have covered the basics of flight and have the knowledge to tackle more complicated problems in aerospace engineering!


Part 1: Basics of Aerodynamics

Forces & Surfaces

The beginning of our course must start with a discussion of the four forces of flight: lift, drag, weight, and thrust.  We then need to develop that conversation into one of control surfaces, which are the various flaps and adjustments on a plane that help it control its flight.  Once you’ve taken some good notes on these topics it’s time to put them into action!

The Engineering Design Process is all about brainstorming and trial-and-error.  You’ll combine this process with the concepts of flight discussed already to put together a paper airplane that can complete a 4-part challenge.  You’ll need to eventually have a single paper airplane that can complete a long flight, then a right angle turn, then a roller coaster dip, and finally another long flight all without being destroyed.  You’ll need a good understanding of control surfaces to make this happen!


 Take 2 pages of detailed notes on the forces of flight and on control surfaces

 Try different paper airplane types until you get one that can accomplish the 4-Part Paper Airplane Design Challenge

 Have Mr. Benshoof confirm (visually) your completed 4-Part Challenge

Forces of Flight

Control Surfaces

Paper Airplane Challenge

 Folding “The Moth”

Part 2: Physics of Aerodynamics

Aerospace Mathematics Overview

Engineering is often defined as “using math and science to improve the world around us”.  The development of flight and airplanes is a great example of this, as a detailed understanding of mathematics and physics helped make the whole thing possible.  Here, you’ll get to tackle some of the math and physics that describes flight for yourself!

First, you’ll take some careful notes on atmospheric pressure and on aerodynamic forces.  Those notes will help guide you through the use of some very specific formulas as you complete some practice calculations about flight mechanics.


 Take careful notes on atmospheric pressure and aerodynamic forces from the videos

Work through the Aerospace Calculations Assignment.  You should work mostly by yourself, but can ask your classmates or Mr. Benshoof for clarifying help.  Do your work in your engineering notebook!

 Take the Unit 1 Quiz before September 3!

 Have Mr. Benshoof check-off your calculations in your engineering notebook.



Aerodynamic Forces

Calculations Help

Engineers that work in aerospace have to deal with some complex systems and calculations.  In order to make that possible, many aerospace problems will eventually lead to a computer simulation.  Here, we’ll use a computer simulation to start our work with airfoils. You’ll begin in a simulation called FoilSim which was developed by NASA.  This simulation will help us design and compare different airfoil shapes.

Then, you’ll decide which airfoil(s) you think will work best.  You’ll create a template and cut the airfoil out of foam using the hotwire.  These airfoils model cross sections of a wing and we can use our wind tunnel to measure some properties about them.  Collect the necessary data and add your results to the shared AE Spreadsheet.

Finally, you’ll look through the results from everyone’s tests and draw some conclusions about airfoil designs.  These will be particularly useful in the next unit when we need to build the most effective glider.


 Take some detailed notes on airfoils and FoilSim

 Use FoilSim to investigate the main shapes of airfoils and complete the FoilSim Investigation Assignment

 Design and create your airfoil(s)

 Test your airfoils in our wind tunnel: the TurBlow1000

 Add your test results to the shared AE Spreadsheet

 Have Mr. Benshoof confirm your airfoil tests

NASA’s FoilSim III

Building an Airfoil