Paper helicopters are an excellent way to show the effect of drag and gravity on a falling object. Although the force of gravity pulls an object to the ground, drag, the friction created by the collision of an object with air molecules, will slow the object's fall. The more drag a paper helicopter generates the longer it will stay in the air. Your students can use the ideas for different types of paper helicopters to find out which helicopter design creates the most drag and will stay in the air the longest.
Helicopter Flight Worksheet
Make a helicopter flight worksheet to show how long each student's helicopter stays in the air during three different flights. You will need a stopwatch to time the helicopter flights and a digital camera to take a photograph of each student's paper helicopter. Attach the photos to the flight airtime worksheet to show the helicopter design. Create the airtime worksheets for your students using a computer word processor. The worksheet should include the student's name, the date, the helicopter design name, the materials used and the airtime of the three flights.
Divide the students into five groups with each group making one of the five types of paper helicopters designs. There are three index card copter designs, a circle copter design and a cardboard copter design. The students will then use their airtime worksheets and fly their helicopter designs three times to see which design consistently stays in the air for the longest amount of time.
Three Index Card Copters
The three index card copter designs can be made by with index cards, paper clips and one of three different types of scissors including pinking shears with zigzag edge blades, decorative scissors with scalloped edge blades or regular scissors.
To make the index card copter fold the card in half vertically then use one of the three types of scissors to cut on the fold half way to the bottom of the card. Then fold the card in half horizontally just below the vertically cut line. Next cut the horizontal fold one-third of the way to the middle on the right side of the card and one-third of the way to the middle on the left side of the card. Fold the horizontally cut edges in on both sides of the card and use a paper clip to hold the sides down. Finally make the wings of the helicopter by folding one vertically cut flap forward and one flap backwards. This copter design can be held high and dropped.
To make the cardboard copter you will need a 12-inch long by 1 1/2-inch wide strip of cardboard and a paper clip. Fold the strip of cardboard in half and place a paper clip on the bottom fold to hold it together. Then fold each flap down three inches to make the wings for the cardboard copter. This copter design can be held high and dropped or tossed into the air.
Cut a strip of paper 8-inches long and 1-inch wide. One-half inch from one edge of the strip cut a slot one-half inch deep. Turn the strip around and cut a slot one-half inch deep on the other side. Then slip the two slots together to make a circle. When it is held up high and dropped this circle design will spin like helicopter blades as it floats to the ground.