There’s something magical about flight. It’s the power of science and engineering mixed with the magic of nature. These Whirly Twirly Flying Birds can help kids learn the principles behind how birds (and airplanes!) fly.
How do Birds Fly?
Birds use two things to make themselves fly. The first is lift. When air quickly moves across a bird’s wings, it creates a difference in pressure between the top of the wing and the bottom of the wing. The slow moving air under the wing wins out in the high pressure war, causing the wing (and the bird!) to rise or lift.
The second thing that makes birds fly is thrust. In order to get that fast moving air on the top of their wings, birds flap them. As they push their wings down creating thrust, the air speeds up and lift takes place.
Whirly Twirly Flying Birds
Left Brain Craft Brain is kind of known for elaborate engineering posts, but sometimes, simple is the most magical. Since we’re not making a drone or robotic bird here, we’re going to artificially supply our birds with some thrust and lift. It’s coming from a balloon and some feathers.
The thrust from the balloon happens because the rubber of the balloon wants to return to it’s natural, un-stretched state and pushes the air out. The escaping air puts a downward force on the outside air, pushing the balloon upwards. As the balloon rises from the downward thrust of the air, some fast air moves across the feather wings of the balloon giving it even more lift.
- 11″ Balloons
- Clear tape
- Sharpie marker
It’s really simple to make the birds. First, blow up the balloon, twist the neck of the balloon closed and clip with a clothespin. Then draw your face on the bird. Next, pick two feathers for each wing and tape ends onto balloon. I don’t recommend adding too many feathers or the birds won’t fly as well because they’re too heavy. Safety Note: Be sure to account for all the deflated balloons as they can pose a choking hazard if swallowed.
Let the Birds Fly
Now comes for the fun part! Just unclip the balloon and toss it upwards in the air. There was lots of giggling the first time we let the birds fly. And my daughter wanted to fly these over and over again.
Think Like An Engineer
This is a good time to think like an engineer and start learning from trial and error. Some questions to ask:
- Does the placement of the feathers make a difference in how it flies? Which works best?
- How many feathers does it take to make the bird too heavy to fly?
- What type of release gives the bird the most lift?
- How many birds can we fly at once?
- And my favorite… Why did the balloon pop when it hit the bush? :)
Here’s a quick video of us flying the birds at the park. For reference, that big tree in the background is at least a hundred feet tall. We couldn’t believe how far the birds flew before they lost all of their thrust power.
Why Do Balloons Spin When They Deflate
The biggest question my daughter had while doing this activity was why do the birds spin instead of going straight up and down. In order for the bird to fly in a straight line, the air rushing out of the balloon would have to create a force exactly in the center of the balloon. But because the neck of the balloon is flexible, it wobbles with the force of the releasing air. Thus the force is never quite in the middle, causing it to rotate. I’ve been told that if you put something with a bit of weight on the nose of the balloon, directly opposite of the neck, it will fly in a straight line. But that experiment is for another day :)
Giving Kids the Power to Create
This post is kicking off a 5 week series with some of my favorite bloggers who all love STEAM. Because learning with Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math gives kids the power to do almost anything they can dream up. Like flying like a bird… Or a rocket or an airplane. This week is all about ways to make things Fly.
Dancing Balloons // Babble Dabble Do
Indoor Boomerang // What Do We Do All Day
Square Plane // All For the Boys
DIY Soda Rockets // Lemon Lime Adventures
M&M’s Tube Rockets // Frugal Fun for Boys
Flying Tea Bag Hot Air Balloon // TinkerLab
Make Your Own Zip Line // Meri Cherry
And be sure to follow along for the next four weeks while we React, Harness, Compute and Grow, all with the power of STEAM.