This interactive activity from NASA highlights many of the technological advances in aviation due to decades of NASA aeronautics research. You'll explore the impact of NASA technology on aviation safety, efficiency, and performance factors. You'll then have a chance to review NASA's contributions to general aviation aircraft, military aircraft, and helicopters. This resource is useful for introducing components of Engineering Design (ETS) from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) to grades 9-12 students. Note that, because it contains several video segments and animations, it may take time to fully load.
This media asset comes from NASA Interactive Features: "Aeronautics Research OnBoard".
Teaching Tips for Grades 9-12
Performance Expectation: HS-ETS1-2; HS-ETS1-3
Disciplinary Core Ideas:
Engineering Practice: Designing Solutions
Airplanes and helicopters are complex systems that transport over four million people per day. Determining how to optimize individual components of these systems can lead to increased efficiency, an important part of optimizing design solutions.
Use this interactive to explore many of the components that make up these complex systems. Have students work individually or in teams to explore one of the four systems shown in the interactive. Ask students to reflect on these questions as they select yellow dots in the VR View, read the associated text, and look at the image or video that helps to explain that part:
This activity helps students focus on smaller, more manageable problems as they evaluate solutions based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations, part of the Engineering Practice, Designing Solutions.
Alternate/additional activity: Use this interactive to explore how changes to the components that make up these complex systems have impacted constraints. Have students work individually or in teams to explore the Benefits information for one of the four systems shown in this interactive. Ask students to reflect on these questions as they select yellow dots in the Benefits tab, read the associated text, and look at the image or video that helps to explain that part:
This activity helps students focus on desired outcomes as they evaluate solutions based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations, part of the Engineering Practice, Designing Solutions.
Since the late 1950s, NASA has made results of its research and development activities available to other government agencies and the private sector. This government-mandated technology transfer was designed to spur commercial applications in transportation, manufacturing, computer technology, and other sectors that would more broadly benefit the public. Today, aeronautics research at NASA directly impacts more than 600 million passengers who fly in the United States each year.
While modern jetliners maintain the same basic configuration as those of the 1950s and 1960s that ushered in the era of mass commercial air travel—two wings, the fuselage (the long tubular body), rear stabilizers, and a rudder, which aids the steering—just about everything, from the onboard flight control system to engine blade design to the materials used to make the parts, has been optimized. While airplane manufacturers are ultimately responsible for implementing the changes, nearly every aircraft today flies faster, more efficiently, and with greater safety thanks to technology developed at NASA.
As aircraft fly, resistance from the air creates a force called drag. Commercial aircraft overcome drag by using another force: thrust. In early aircraft, engines were designed with a propeller—a type of rotating fan—to generate thrust. Later, jet engines offered the added thrust needed to speed larger aircraft over greater distances. Today's jet engines are largely variations on a design called the turbofan: a gas turbine engine that burns fuel to produce thrust, enclosed with a fan that acts like a propeller. To power the next generation of aircraft, NASA is working with engine manufacturers on an open-rotor engine design. In this design, the gas turbine drives two unenclosed rotors, or large propellers, that move in opposite directions to one another. Testing suggests that these engines will be 25 to 30 percent more fuel efficient than current engines.
At high altitude, where the air is thinner, aircraft are subjected to less resistance from drag. As a result, today's higher-flying aircraft burn less fuel than older, lower-flying ones. Using wind-tunnel tests, aeronautics engineers have been able to streamline fuselage and wing shapes to improve efficiency. Thanks as well to the use of composite materials, which offer greater strength than traditional aluminum alloys at a fraction of the weight, today's aircraft are about 80 percent more fuel efficient than they were in the 1960s. NASA's next big contribution to aviation efficiency may be in the area of alternative fuels. Biofuels, hydrogen, and solar energy are among the energy options being tested to provide at least some of the power to an aircraft. These alternative sources would reduce the amount of fuel used in-flight and generate cleaner emissions as well.
Underscoring any improvement to aviation technology is the need to put safety first. NASA's Aviation Safety Program (AvSP) was formed in 1997 with the goal of cutting accident rates by 80 percent in 10 years and 90 percent in 25 years. Thus, safety is the guiding principle in aircraft design, manufacture, maintenance, and operations; in pilot and crew training; and in the operation and management of the network of air traffic controllers, inspectors, and technicians. The AvSP's key technology strategies include the creation of airplanes that are "self-healing" -- for example, in the event of a lightning strike -- and that "refuse to crash" if a pilot should lose control. Such planes would use software that prevents collisions, stalls, or spins and even steers airplanes away from national landmarks, security targets, and other protected areas.
Before the Interactive
After the Interactive
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