Flight Unit Plan

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

Increase the creativity and analytical skills of your middle schoolers with this unit plan, as you teach the history of flight from the Wright Brothers through the world wars up until space travel.


Humans have attempted to fly and imitate the birds for hundreds of years. By teaching about flight, your middle school students will better understand why people want to explore their world, improve upon it, and eventually venture into space. From da Vinci's ornithopter around 1505 to 18th century French hot air balloons to the Wright Brothers, the field is fascinating and extensive. Many of the advancements by NASA and other aviation experts have led to rapid improvements in other fields such as medicine and technology as well, improving the lives of millions of people.

Step 1 - The Basics of Flight History

Before you actually go in depth teaching your students about flight, it might help to know just where your students stand as far as grasping the history of flight.

Two other important concepts for your students to know are:

  • How did breaking the sound barrier change the course of aviation?
  • How did the advent of the computer age change aviation methods?

Step 2 - Key Figures in Flight History

  • Make sure your students review some of the early fascinating attempts to fly in winged suits, and scientists such as Leonardo da Vinci, who put a design for a helicopter on paper around the year 1500, which was over 400 years before the Wright Brothers.
  • The Wright Brothers Lesson Plan will aid you in teaching about the events that led up to that historic day.
  • You can teach your students more about pioneers Orville and Wilbur with these Wright Brothers Games & Activities.
  • No lesson on flight would be complete without detailing the incredible bravery and heroics of Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh. You can refer to the Amelia Earhart Lesson Plan and the Charles Lindbergh Lesson Plan to assist in teaching about their exploits.

Step 3 - The Basics of Aviation

  • The first thing a student really needs to know about an airplane are its component parts. The Aircraft Flight Instruments Lesson Plan will be of help in teaching these concepts.
  • To fully understand the concept of flight, your students will need to understand how an airplane is affected by wind and weather. The Weather for Aviation Lesson Plan provides you details.
  • How do the laws of physics govern an airplane during its flight? The Physics of Flight Lesson Plan will help you to explain these scientific principles.

Step 4 - Research & Activities

Now it is time for your students to head to the school library or to use their internet capabilities to research deeper into flight and aviation. They will want to maintain a pilot's log of thoughts and questions about the topics to refer back to later.

Consider providing the following list of questions to help guide your students' research:

  • The Pre-Wright Brothers' Era
    • How did early attempts at flying kites, balloons, and airships change the history of flight?
  • The Wright Brothers
    • How were the two brothers able to fly their aircraft, and what details led up to December 17th, 1903?
  • Planes in World War I, planes between the wars, and planes in World War II
    • How did the planes change over the course of the three distinct time periods?
  • Flight from 1945 (the end of World War II) until 1979
    • How did the breaking of the sound barrier and the rise of commercial aviation change air travel?
  • The digital age of flight from 1980 to the present
    • How did the use of computers significantly change the entire aviation industry?
  • How long have humans been attempting to fly, and what are some of the earliest recorded attempts?
  • What methods did humans utilize before the Wright Brothers flew in 1903, and what were some positives and negatives of each method?
  • What was early flight like between the start of World War I in 1914 and the end of World War II in 1945?
  • How did commercial airlines take shape after World War II ended?

Reading books is a valuable method of teaching your students. However, by combining it with participatory activities and projects, your students will learn more, as well as gain valuable insight to the topic they are studying. Consider using and of the following activities.

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