"Students need and activity where they research, design, build and test a device."


1.   The device must be very low cost.
2.   There should be very few limitations.  The fewer restrictions the better.
3.   A device with action is preferred.
4.   The device should require minimal time to construct.  Most of the time should
         be used on research, design and testing, not building.
5.  The device needs to be easily modified.
6.   Testing and retesting should be low cost, preferably no cost.
7.   The device should have easily measured performance standards.
8.   Equipment needed to measure performance should be inexpensive.
9.   Performance data should be easily recorded on a standard form.
10.  Designs and performance data should be kept as a research file for the students
         to study the different designs and attempt to build a better performing device.
11. The performance of the a device, should depend upon more than one factor.
          For example, one horse power can be achieved by many combinations of
          work and time.  The same horsepower can be achieved by more work / less
          time, or less work / more time.  Most devices perform best at a certain
          combination.  The student should have to run multiple tests to determine
          which combination produces maximum performance for their device.
12.  A device that could be used in a contest is desirable.
13.  The device should be small enough to easily store in a locker.
15.  The students could be able to work on the device at home, if they wish.

A search of what was available turned up several good activities, but none met my parameters.
One was a very popular activity, but it had several shortcomings.  Those shortcomings were:
   *  The designs, or specifications were too limiting.
   *  Too costly to construct.
   *  It was usually easier to construct a new device rather than modify the existing device.
   *  So much time was needed for construction that testing was limited to only one, or two, tests.
   *  Too costly to test, which makes multiple testing prohibitive.
   *  Sophisticated equipment was needed to measure performance.
   *  No combination of ways for the same device to achieve the maximum performance.
   *  Testing had to be done outside of a building.

My R & D unit comes close to meeting the stated parameters.


Consider having your class compete with other classes such as the science class.  This
unit would make an excellent state and national competition.  Why don't you challenge
other schools?  This would be a good opportunity to get some publicity for your program.



Students are to research, design, build a catapult 
launched glider.  It is to fly a curved path around a 
pylon, travel as far as possible and land as near 
as possible to a 100 ft. tape that has been stretched 
out from the launcher.  Each flight is scored by the 
distance of flight along the tape, less the distance 
it lands to one side of the tape.  The final activity 
is a competition between the gliders. 

Drawings of each glider, along with competition flight 
data, is recorded on a standard form and kept on file 
for future classes to use as a resource. 




This unit was designed for research and
development, but is also used to teach flight.


1.  Each student is to select the materials used.  The only limitations are:
         (a)  No lighter than air materials may be use.
         (b)  No sharp edges, or points that can  harm a person are allowed.
         (c)  The only power allowed is one of "THE PARKE  SYSTEM" launchers.
         (d)  No individual part of the glider shall have a dimension greater than 9 1/2".

2.  Each glider shall be assigned a number by the  teacher.  That number shall be
     displayed on the top side of the glider in numbers at least 1/2" high.

The objective of this unit is problem solving.  Students are to come up
with their own design and solve their own construction problems.

    1.  The Parke System, Special tools and manuals available only from Parke.
    2.  STANDARD TOOLS,  available from traditional sources.
    3.  MATERIALS, hard to get items are available from Parke, others from traditional sources.


The Parke System 

Launcher and base

Tension scale

100 ft. tape measure  

25 ft. tape measure    


50   Standard forms  

Pylon base and stand  

Drill fixture   


Set of  Rules 




  Replacement rubber band


  Replacement standard forms pack of forms (50)







  PVC pipe, 1" dia.. x 10 ft. 

1 per lab

  Gram scale 

1 per lab

NOTE: Other tooling depends upon the materials chosen by
           the student.  You will probably have everything needed.







  Standard form for recording the 
    design and performance data 





  Each student is to select their own materials. 
   You might wish to have a variety of materials 
    on hand.  See possible materials below.







For a body, cut some light weight wood into 1/4 x 1/4 x 8 1/2 inch pieces. A drill fixture to
drill two 1/8" holes in each piece comes with the unit.  One hole is drilled at an angle. A
short 1/8 dowel is put in the hole.  The rubber band is hooked onto the dowel.  The other
hole is drilled near the end of the piece and is where the launcher pin goes through the
end of the glider.  When the pin is pulled the glider is launched.

Most of my students used pieces of balsa for all parts.

Folded card stock, with reinforcements at stress points.  I had good results with such cards.

Sandwich boxes from carry out restaurants, foam pie plates, cardboard, thin plastic,
foam insulation used for buildings, aluminum from soft drink cans.

A thin aluminum wire (MIG welding) frame covered with Saran wrap?

Research the man powered plane.  The design will probably not be appropriate, but it
might be an excellent source for possible materials.

A material that can be blow or vacuum formed?

Resins over stryofoam?

Model airplane builders have special materials to cover a frame.

Soaking balsa wood in rubbing alcohol allows it to be bent to shape.


Weight of lifting and control surfaces is a major factor, keep as light as possible.

Point of balance is critical.  Two methods of achieving balance is to change
the position of the wing, or place a weight in the nose.

Proper cross sectional design of the lifting surfaces makes a big difference,
but many students get results with flat surfaces.

The launcher provides power during the first part of flight.  Air resistance of lifting
surfaces slows the glider down.  Could the wings be folded during the first part of
the flight and spread when the speed slows?

Most real planes have wings made up of spars, ribs a skin.  Is this a possibility?
Check a hobby shop for materials and construction procedure.

Is there some material that could be formed to the desired cross section area, yet
be hollow?  The strength of the wing would have to be in the skin.