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Teamwork in Aerospace


These pages describe an educational activity which has been presented by Tom Benson of the NASA Glenn Research Center at several schools and workshops. There are two main objectives to the activity; one is to expose the students to the operation of the aerospace industry, and the other is a team dynamics exercise. After studying the background information, students are ready to begin the activity.

The students are asked to do something that they know how to do: build and fly a paper airplane. The teacher begins by dividing the group of students up into 4 to 10 "companies", depending on the number of students participating. For best results, there should be than 4 people in each company. Depending on the teacher's desired results, one can let the students group themselves (all boy, all girl teams, etc.) or one can insure that each company is mixed by race, gender, and age. It is best to have each company seated at its own table on which is placed all the required materials except the colored paper.

Required Materials

Since the students have been introduced to the acquisition process, the teacher tells the companies that NASA has just issued an RFP for a paper airplane to be used at the Visitor's Center at NASA Glenn for student outreach activities. Here's the RFP:

The aircraft rfp

The awarding of a contract is going to be determined by a fly-off. Each company is to build a single prototype aircraft using the colored paper. (Hand out one sheet of the colored paper to each company). They have 15 minutes to produce the aircraft and they are to meet at some location (front of the class .. hallway .. whatever) in exactly 15 minutes with a pilot, an airplane, and a company "president" for the flyoff. Here's the rules for the fly-off.

The activity tasks

Any questions about producing the airplane, the fly-off, or any other matters can only be communicated to the teacher by the president of the company. The students have to relay the question to the president, then the president talks to the teacher. The companies have received "government furnished equipment (GFE)" in the form of paper, scissors, tape, and paper clips in order to refine their design. The students are free to test fly their aircraft before the fly-off. But the contract will be awarded solely on the results of the fly-off.


Give the students 15 minutes to make their aircraft. Re-enforce the time element and create a little pressure, by calling out "10 minutes, 5 minutes, 1 minute ... 3, 2, 1 done". There will be a lot of chaos going on while they design and test fly their aircraft and that's what the activity is all about. There will usually be one team that can't quite meet the time constraint. If the teacher wants to re-enforce an additional lesson, disqualify that team from the fly-off.

Conduct the fly-off. Only accept an aircraft made from the colored paper. Time each aircraft from the second it leaves the hand of the pilot until it hits the ground. Have just one plane fly at a time. The sum of two flights gives each company a score. The highest score wins.

Now call all the companies back together for a de-briefing. Several slides with questions have been deleveloped to guide the de-briefing, but the key element here is to get the students to talk about the design process and how well the teams worked together.

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CLICK HERE to download your own power point presentation of the entire activity.

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Editor: Nancy Hall
NASA Official: Nancy Hall
Last Updated: May 13 2021

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