The Shoebox Challenge
Project for Pre-AP Physics Classes
Dawson High School
2011-2012 School Year
This activity is based on the original NASA Educational Project titled, “Can a Shoebox Fly?” Thank
you, NASA, for placing a high priority on the inclusion of students at all levels of the education system
and for making a wide variety of educational materials available to teachers.
The ultimate result of this challenge is the production of a functional glider, and this glider must
incorporate a shoebox as part of its design. This challenge will require collaborative and creative
problem solving, and should include an appropriate amount of fun. You will need to accomplish the
following tasks to complete the challenge successfully:
research the dynamics of flight and apply them to this challenge
determine and gather materials necessary to construct your glider
determine how to launch your glider in a consistent way
obtain the most efficient glide slope ratio possible
When designing any device, inventors and engineers have to consider two major elements of the
design—criteria and constraints. Criteria are standards or requirements that must be included in the
design. Examples for you glider might include efficient use of materials, ability to land without
destroying itself, and a minimum glide a certain distance. Constraints are things that limit the design
of the glider. Examples might include money, time, maximum size, available materials, space to build,
space to fly, and human capabilities.
Shoebox Glider Criteria
1. The glider must move forward at least three meters.
2. The glider must demonstrate an efficient positive glide slope ratio. The larger the glide slope, the
better, as long as the other criteria and constraints are followed.
3. The glider must not break upon landing.
4. The glider’s glide slope and aspect ratios must be determined.
Shoebox Glider Constraints
1. The glider must include an intact adult sized shoebox in its design.
2. Nothing can be placed inside the shoebox.
3. There are no material constraints.
4. There will be time limits set by the teacher for each phase of the challenge.
You will work in groups of four to six students. You can begin background research, material location
and collection, design, and construction immediately. The launch date for the glider is tentatively
scheduled for February 7.
Glossary of Terms Used in the Shoebox Challenge
airfoil – parts of an airplane (such as wings, glide slope ratio – the horizontal distance
tail surfaces, and propellers) designed to cause traveled divided by the change of altitude
a dynamic reaction from the air through which
it moves gravity – the term used to describe the force of
attraction that exists between all matter within
aeronautics – the science and art of flight the universe
through the atmosphere
lift – the upward force that opposes the pull of
aspect ratio – the length of a wing divided by gravity
its width or chord
lateral axis – an imaginary line that runs from
aerodynamics – the branch of mechanics that one wingtip through the fuselage and exits the
deals with forces exerted by air or other gases other wingtip; also called the pitch axis
leading edge of the airfoil – the edge that
angle of attack – the angle created by the pilot meets the relative wind first
during takeoff; the angle between the chord line
and the oncoming relative wind mass – the amount of matter contained in an
Bernoulli’s Principle –as a fluid’s speed
increases, the pressure within the fluid relative wind – opposite the flight path and
decreases; from this, we observe that the impacts the airfoil at any angle to the chord line
pressure on top of an airfoil must be less than
the pressure below it stall – separation between the streamlines and
the airfoil causing loss of lift
cambered – curved upper surface on a wing to
increase lift thrust – the force exerted through the propeller
shaft of an airplane due to reaction of the air on
chord – (airfoil) an imaginary line that the revolving blades of the propeller; moves the
connects the leading edge with the trailing edge aircraft ahead
of the airfoil
trailing edge of the airfoil – the thin junction
drag – a slowing force acting on an object (like where the upper and lower surfaces come
and airfoil or airplane) moving through air; together at the rear of the wing
parallel and opposite to the direction of motion
weight – force that directly opposes lift
force – the cause of motion; power or energy
exerted against an object in a given direction wing – primary source of lift with ailerons
fuselage – the basic structure of the airplane to
which all the other parts are attached