Aerodynamics: Searching For Stability

Middle School Aerodynamics Science Fair Project
Photo © 2009 Jason Puddephatt, Flickr

Students with a passion for aviation, an interest in aerodynamics, and a love of model airplanes, will find this science fair project an out-of-the-park home run! Designed by Matthew Wong, seventh grade student and fourth place winner in the aerodynamics/hydrodynamics category of the 2010 California State Science Fair, students choosing to model their experiment after this one will explore the following questions:

  • Do winglets increase the stability of an airplane?
  • If so, what shape and angle have the greatest impact on stability?

Project Overview

Students will first construct five separate balsa wood plane models with which to test the various components of stability. With the exception of the control (e.g. no winglets), the models should each offer a unique variable to test. Wong opted to explore the following variables:

  • Shapes: traditional winglets, wing fences, curved wing.
  • Angles: 90-degree winglest, 135-degree winglets.

Wong hypothesized that planes with winglets would be offered more stability (inadvertently concluding that the control plane would exhibit the least stability) and that the model with 90-degree winglets would increase stability the most. Each model was then placed in a wind tunnel and ranked by performance in three key tests - the roll test, the pitch test, and the drag test.

To create your own experiment exploring aerodynamics and the effect of winglets on plane stability, be sure to view Wongs’s award-winning project summary (project number J0132) as a starting point and a guide for designing your own project! And don’t forget to browse the other applicants’ project summaries for more ideas!