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Plane as big as a school

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Construction
Topic: Pressure & moments

An enormous new holiday jet – the Airbus A380 – has just completed its first test flight successfully. It's set to put new meaning to the words 'school trip' – a whole school could take to the air together in it! Airbus claims their new plane will be quieter, greener and more comfortable than other planes. It will also go further between re-fuels. It achieves these aims by being incredibly big – so what keeps it in the air? In this activity students use the particle model to produce a page for an in-flight magazine explaining how the A380 stays up.

Published: 5th May 2005
Reviews & Comments: 9

Learning objectives

Students will use the particle model to explain about lift in aircraft wings.

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7g particle model of solids, liquids and gases
� Gas particles are moving around all the time
� Gas pressure is caused by particles hitting the walls of the container

Running the activity

If possible, start the activity by showing a video clip of the A380's maiden flight (see the first web link below). Then display page 1, which gets across its huge size and other attributes. Ask why the A380 doesn't fall out of the sky. Then display page 2, which uses the ideas of trampolines and balloons to explain 'lift' in terms of particles. Page 3 asks students to sequence a series of sentences so that they can take the role of Airbus scientists explaining to passengers via an in-flight magazine (page 4) how the A380 stays in the air.

The correct order for the sequencing activity on page 3 is E A G L F K I J C H B D

Some other facts about the A380 compared to its closest competitor (Boeing 747)
� It has just 10% more range
� It is 15 – 20% cheaper (at 95 passenger miles per gallon with the maximum number of passengers)
� It makes half the noise on take-off
� It carries more passengers (555 mixed class = 840 all economy)
� The lift force bends the wings 4 metres on take-off
� The big idea behind the A380 is to allow more people to fly without requiring more flights and the need to build more airport capacity.

News links

This airbus A380 "mini-site" has high-resolution video sequences in a small window. Click on "enter site" then, "video" and choose the icon at the end of the first row to get a short take-off sequence. You need Flash. There is also an animation that shows how the shape of the blue print for the A380 changed during the design process. Look at the cut-out paper aeroplane as an extension activity.
BBC news
This gives the BBC news about the test flight.
Explain Free WAre
Go to this site for a big picture of the A380.
Fly the future
Design your own airplane of the future online, enter the competition to win copies of Microsoft Flight Simulator and downloads A380 paper planes to fly.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Can't download

Sep 30th, 2013

1 Star

I can't even download it. When I click the download button for the activity it won't open!

Reviewer: Azharul Islam

Plane as big as a school review

Jun 10th, 2011

1 Star

Incorrect use of the Bernoulli Effect!

The lift on the wings comes mostly from the 'angle of attack' (the angle of the wing creates a large push downwards as it pushes air out of its way), not the shape of the wing causing a pressure differential.

Reviewer: Lindsay Gilmour

Plane as big as a school review

Feb 9th, 2010

5 Star

very good and well sequenced

Reviewer: moses otunga

Pressure and Moments/ Speeding up

Oct 13th, 2008

5 Star

This is a fantastic activity for top set year 9.
The card sort worked well for my middle ability year 9 set and got them to think about how to compose sentences based on literacy.

Reviewer: Melissa Baines


Nov 26th, 2007

4 Star

Great activity towards the end of year 7 states of matter introduction. Introduced a wow factor into what can be a difficult area for younger pupils to visualise. I found the sequencing activity took longer than anticipated and facilitated an opportunity for collaborative work.
The 'take off' link was a bit fiddly to find and needed the pupils to be quite close to the white board for clear viewing.
Thank you

Reviewer: s evans

Plane as big as a school

Mar 5th, 2007

4 Star

Great Activity - as all the UPD8 activities are. This one got me a job at a science and engineering school.

I did this activity with a top ability year 8 group, the stimulus video and material really did get the learning points across and they completed the card sort quicker than I did! Asking the pupils to become scientists and make a presentation explaining how the airbus flies is a must. Any activity that is fun and makes them think is valuable. Go for it!

Reviewer: James Knapman


Jul 19th, 2006

4 Star

I used this with a low ability and fairly challenging Year 8 group. They were completely engrossed in the activity and with a little help all completed it. It was used as part of a series of lessons on particles. My view is that the activity helped them all learn something that was otherwise going to be really hard for this group. We may well use it again.

I would recommend this as a whole lesson for low ability and perhaps a activity within the lesson for higher groups.

Reviewer: guy green

Air bus A380

May 8th, 2006

4 Star

the pupils really enjoyed watching the news clip about the airbus and then could sort out the sentences a lot easier than i was expecting - they mostly got the ideas about why the plane could fly and i will use this lesson again definately

Good lesson all in all

Reviewer: stacia tomlinson

Plane as Big as a School

Jun 3rd, 2005

4 Star

This is an excellent portal to both the A380 Airbus and to a study on flight. I used this with a top set in Year 9 - so the physics needed a different approach. Most of them knew the term "lift" but had failed to wonder where this magic came from. They set out on a discovery into "How Fly?" - researching using the internet - and then wondering "How did the Wright Brothers know?"

The "Future Flight" web site provided a deliqhtful bonus.

Many thanks,

Morrison Frew

Reviewer: Morrison Frew