Targeting students in grades 9-12, the Flight Testing Newton’s Laws NASA Education Series shows how Newton’s three laws of motion and advanced mathematics apply to the real world of flight testing an aircraft.

Collection Contents


This NASA video segment explores how Newton's Laws of Motion apply to the development and operation of airplanes. Viewers watch an instructor at NASA's National Test Pilot School as he describes and then demonstrates why seatbelts are an important force on pilots; what it means to pull 2, 4 and even 6 g in a jet; and how the thrust of a jet engine causes an aircraft to move forward. Formulas are presented onscreen along with the calculations discussed in the segment. For example, the instructor explains how viewers can calculate a person's mass by dividing the weight of that person by the acceleration due to gravity. The instructor then proceeds to step on a scale. A formula is shown, and the calculation is made to reveal the instructor's mass in slugs. This segment comprises The Law of Inertia: Newton's First Law; Force Equals Mass Times Acceleration: Newton's Second Law; and The Law of Action and Reaction: Newton's Third Law.
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This NASA video segment explores where the center of gravity is on an airplane, how its location is determined, and why center of gravity is important for maintaining balance. An instructor and an engineer at NASA's National Test Pilot School teach that to control an aircraft, its center of gravity must be located where the wing lift is. Viewers also learn that computers in the aircraft redistribute the weight of fuel to maintain a safe zone for the center of gravity. Demonstrations show how to find the center of gravity of an irregularly shaped object and how the same scientific principles involved in balancing a seesaw apply to balancing an airplane. Viewers also learn that a moment is the product of force times the arm length.
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This NASA video segment explores how Newton's Laws of Motion apply to the lift of an airplane. An instructor at NASA's National Test Pilot School teaches that for an airplane to overcome the downward force of its weight, it must change the momentum of the air molecules colliding with the wings. This is accomplished by changing the air's vertical velocity through increased propeller speed, sharpened angles of attack, widened wings or curved wings. Onscreen formulas and calculations represent the forces mathematically. For example, in one part, the instructor derives a formula from Newton's second law to calculate the minimum flying speed of an aircraft. The instructor then flies the aircraft to test his calculations.
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Drag - Lesson 4

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This NASA video segment explores how Newton's Laws of Motion apply to the drag force on an airplane. Viewers watch an instructor at NASA's National Test Pilot School and learn that the drag force on an airplane in flight is the result of the horizontal momentum of air molecules colliding with the airplane. Viewers also learn that this drag force can be changed by reshaping the airplane, changing the angle of attack, and placing speed brakes on the wings. A demonstration illustrates how the drag force on an object can be determined, while derivations of the drag equation from Newton's second law show how the force can be calculated. Onscreen formulas and calculations represent the forces mathematically.
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Thrust - Lesson 5

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This NASA video segment explores how Newton's second law applies to the thrust force on an airplane. Viewers watch an instructor at NASA's National Test Pilot School and learn that an airplane's engines work to change the horizontal momentum of the air surrounding the airplane. Viewers also learn that this change in momentum is accomplished through increased propeller speed, increased propeller diameter or increased air pressure in the jet engines. Onscreen formulas and calculations represent the forces mathematically. For example, in one part, the instructor uses Newton's second law to derive an equation to find the minimum rpm's needed to provide enough thrust to an airplane.
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Take off - Lesson 6

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This NASA video segment explores how Newton's laws apply to the takeoff of an airplane. Viewers watch an instructor and engineer at NASA's National Test Pilot School and learn that there are four opposing forces on an airplane, that takeoff is the point at which the lift just starts to offset the weight, and that the distance needed for takeoff can be calculated using an equation derived from Newton's second law. The video clip also discusses the extra drag force created by the rolling friction of the airplane's wheels.
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This NASA video segment explores how Newton's laws apply to the takeoff of an airplane. Viewers watch an instructor and engineer at NASA's National Test Pilot School and learn that there are four opposing forces on an airplane, that takeoff is the point at which the lift just starts to offset the weight, and that the distance needed for takeoff can be calculated using an equation derived from Newton's second law. The video clip also discusses the extra drag force created by the rolling friction of the airplane's wheels.
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Cruise - Lesson 8

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This NASA video segment explores how Newton's laws can be used to assess an airplane's cruise performance. By watching an instructor at NASA's National Test Pilot School, viewers learn how an aircraft's cruise performance is evaluated and how this performance can be maximized. Viewers also learn how to rearrange the lift and drag equations to find the ratio of the coefficient of lift to the coefficient of drag that will provide maximum performance. Using a graph of these coefficients, the instructor demonstrates how to solve for the maximum endurance speed of the plane and then tests the calculation in an airplane.
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Landing - Lesson 9

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This NASA video segment explores how Newton's laws apply to landing an airplane. Viewers watch an instructor at NASA's National Test Pilot School and learn that landing an airplane involves three phases, that the airplane's mass and touchdown velocity determine the necessary runway length, and that smooth landings require pilot skill in balancing forces. The instructor explains how to calculate the minimal runway length.
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Landing - the Approach

by NASA Education

This NASA video segment explores how Newton's laws apply to the landing of an airplane. Viewers watch an instructor at NASA's National Test Pilot School and learn that the approach is the first phase of landing an airplane, that the flaps on an airplane's wings help decrease the speed of the aircraft, and that the curvature of the wings helps keep the airplane aloft at slower speeds.
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Landing - the Rollout

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This NASA video segment explores how Newton's laws apply to the landing of an airplane. Viewers watch an instructor at NASA's National Test Pilot School explain that during the rollout phase of landing, the biggest concern is runway length. Viewers also learn about various braking mechanisms used to stop large commercial airplanes on a runway and jets on an aircraft carrier.
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Landing - the Flare

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This NASA video segment explores how Newton's laws apply to the landing of an airplane. Viewers watch an instructor at NASA's National Test Pilot School explain what happens during the flare phase of landing and how mistakes in a pilot's timing can make landing impossible.
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Landing - a Summary

by NASA Education

This NASA video segment explores how Newton's laws apply to the landing of an airplane. Viewers watch an instructor at NASA's National Test Pilot School explain that each step of an airplane's landing can be described with physics. Viewers also learn that a test pilot's job is to find the optimal methods for landing an aircraft.
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