How Things Fly {Featured Site}

DIYHsr Featured Site

DIYHsr Featured Site

How Things Fly is an interactive site sponsored by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum created as a companion to the physical exhibit at the museum.  But you don’t need to visit the museum to learn the basic principles that allow aircraft and spacecraft to fly!

How Things Fly {Featured Site}

The emphasis here is “interactive.” We want you to discover for yourself answers to things you’ve always wondered about flight. You can explore the flight environment, aerodynamics, propulsion, structures and materials, flight dynamics, and more. Design and make your own paper airplanes, take the Distance Challenge, and see the forces of flight in action for yourself.

The site is set up with six different areas of investigation:

Forces of Flight

  • Exploring the four forces: lift, drag, weight, thrust.
  • Why we aren’t built to fly.
  • Interactive: Design and fly your own plane.

Gravity & Air

  • Exploring gravity.
  • Interactive: How much would you weigh on another world?
  • Exploring what air is made of.
  • Exploring buoyancy.
  • Interactive: Inflate a balloon.


  • Air in motion.
  • Interactive: How the Bernoulli principle works.
  • Subsonic wings.
  • Interactive: How wings work.
  • Factors affecting lift.
  • Alternative theories of lift.
  • Pressure drag.
  • Friction drag.
  • Vortex drag.
  • Interactive: What is vortex drag?
  • Waves in the air.
  • Shock waves.
  • Interactive: Creating a shock wave.


  • Propellers.
  • Engines.
  • Interactive: Three types of engines.
  • Rocket propulsion.
  • Vertical flight.

Structures & Materials

  • Weight and strength.
  • Materials.
  • Hypersonic vehicles.
  • Interactive: Heat resistance in hypersonic vehicles.
  • Shaped for space.

Flight Dynamics

  • Control surfaces.
  • Roll, pitch, and yaw.
  • Instruments.
  • Interactive: Airplane instruments.
  • Gravity in orbit.
  • Interactive: Is there gravity in orbit?
  • Newton’s laws of motion.
  • Kepler’s laws of orbital motion.
  • Interactive: Orbital motion.
  • Moving in space.
  • Thrusters and spinning wheels.

Throughout the site there are references to several activities. These can all be found on the activities page and include:

  • Building a paper airplane to print.
  • Rocket design lab interactive.
  • Distance challenge where you design your own plane and see how far it can fly (free registration required).
  • Controlled flight where you use the controls to interactively fly a plane…or not.
  • Forces of flight where you design a plane.
  • Experiment with different wings.

There are also six different printable hands-on activities that can be downloaded in PDF.

Quick quizzes can be found in the sidebars along with informative videos. There are also several explanatory images/diagrams that will be a great addition to a cumulative notebook!

If you are looking for something specific, you can access the images, videos, PDF downloads, and more from the activities and multimedia page.

How Things Fly is an exceptionally well-crafted site that will spark an interest or complement any studies in flight!