Transcript for NASA Connect - Problem Solving - The Wright Math


[Speaker] At some point
everyone dreams of flying.

To physically elevate
themselves above the environment.

To fly was a dream of
mine when I was a kid.

This is what I do today.

Hi. I'm John Herrington NASA crew
member of STS-113 and I'm also

of member of the Chickesaw
Nation of Oklahoma.

Every culture and every
civilization throughout recorded

history has a mythology
involving human flight.

One of the best known legends of
human flight is the Greek story

of Icarus who tried to
escape from an island prison

by using wings made
of wax and feathers.

Icarus flew too close to
the sun and the wax melted

and he fell into the sea.

Ancient Chinese records speak
of human attempts to sail

through the air by
attaching themselves to kites.

In today's pop culture flight is
common among comic book superheros.

In numerous Native American
cultures celebrate flight

in the traditional dances but it
was only about a hundred years ago

that the problems of
powered flight were overcome

and human beings finally
took to the sky.

In this episode of NASA CONNECT,
host Jennifer Pulley will take you

on a journey to find out how
mankind first learned to fly.

You'll discover some secrets

to the Wright Brothers
success a hundred years ago.

In your classroom you will
build your own flying machines

and evaluate the performance.

You'll also learn how NASA
engineers are developing new

technologies for the
next century of flight

and you will explore the web
to follow in the footsteps

of the Wrights with some
cool interactive activity.

All in this episode


[Jennifer] Hi.

I'm Jennifer Pulley and
welcome to NASA CONNECT,

the show that connects you to math,

science, technology, and NASA.

I'm here at the Wright
Brothers national memorial

on the outer banks
of North Carolina.

This is where Orville and Wilbur
Wright flew their first airplane

100 years ago.

[Speaker] I read that there are
many inventors besides the Wright

Brothers trying to
invent the airplane.

[Jennifer] It's true.

Many famous inventors
including Alexander Graham Bell,

Thomas Edison, machine
gun inventor Hiram Maxim

and Samuel Langley, the secretary
of the Smithsonian Institution,

had all attempted to
build flying machines.

[Speaker] My teacher said that the
Wright Brothers didn't have high

school diplomas and didn't have
a lot of money to work with.

Is that true?

[Jennifer] They were both
good students in school,

and Wilbur completed all the
courses he needed to in order

to graduate high school.

He just never picked up his degree.

Both Wilbur and Orville loved
to read outside the classroom

and you're right they really
didn't have a lot of money to work

with but the Wright
Brothers figured out how

to conduct their experiements
without spending a lot of money.

They were able to support
all their experiements

through their day jobs,
their small bicycle shop.

[Student] So how come it
was the Wright Brothers

who invented the airplane?

[Jennifer] You know,
that's a good question.

Why was it that these two
little known bicycle mechanics

from Dayton, Ohio succeeded
where so many other famous

and successful inventors
had failed?

Well, to help find the answer
to that question we spoke

with Dr. Tom Crouch, senior
curator of the division

of aeronautics at the
National Air and Space Museum.

Dr. Crouch, what -- what was the
Wright Brothers secret to success?

[Dr. Crouch] Jennifer, they were
brilliant, intuitive engineers.

In order to invent the airplane,
they had to come up with a process

of invention, a way to
solve really difficult,

technical problems.

Today we call it the
engineering method.

The first thing that the Wright
Brothers did correctly was

to define the problem.

The Wright Brothers studied the
experiments of other inventors

and quickly realized that many of
them were missing the true problem.

The Wright Brothers saw that the
true problem would be maintaining

balance and control
in their machine.

Many other experimenters
were convinced

that an airplane could only
be successful if it relied

on some method of
automatic stability.

They thought it would be impossible
for a pilot to react quickly to all

of the changes that might
happen to an airplane in flight.

They thought that it would be like
balancing on the head of a pen,

which is impossible to do.

The Wright Brothers
saw things differently.

They were bicycle builders and
bicycle riders, and they drew

on that experience
when they thought

about controlling an airplane.

Imagine that you're trying to
describe how you ride a bicycle

to a Martian or to someone
that has never seen one.

You might talk about
riding downhill

on a tiny seat first the top
two very narrow spinning tires,

in addition to which, you have
these pedals you are going to have

to work and a handlebar to steer
with and you are going to have

to coordinate all of
that at the same time.

[Jennifer] You know, I can see
how the person you were talking

to would think they'd have to
be the world's greate acrobat

to ride something like that.

[Dr. Crouch] That's right.

But the Wright Brothers knew
that you internalize the business

of riding a bicycle and they
knew the same thing would happen

with an airplane.

You would learn to fly an
airplane, do it automatically.

[Jennifer] So, the Wright Brothers
then correctly defined the problem?

[Dr. Crouch] Yes.

They knew that control
was the problem.

So the Wright Brothers observed
the movements of the soaring birds

to see if they could figure out how

to control themselves in the air.

They thought they
detected subtle ways

that soaring birds altered
their wings to maintain balance

but the Wrights were stumped

as to how they could duplicate the
organic movements of a bird's wing

in a very mechanical
flying machine.

[Jennifer] Which brings
to the next step

in the engineering
method: Proposed solutions.

Tom, what solutions did the
Wright Brothers propose?

[Dr. Crouch] They really struggled

with how they could control
the geometry of their wing

to control the motion
of the flying machine.

Until one day, Wilbur was in the
bicycle shop and a customer came in

and asked for bicycle tube for
his tire and Wilbur took it

out in a box just like this one
and he was fiddling with the box,

standing there talking and
it suddenly occurred to him

that the answer to their
problem was right in his hand.

Wilbur noticed that if he put the
thumb and forefinger of one hand

on these two diagonal corners
and the thumb and forefinger

of the other hand on the opposite
diagonal corners the he could

squeeze the box back and forth.

He noticed that the box twisted.

In his mind, Wilbur pictured
the top and bottom of the box

as the wings of a biplane.

With the simple system of cables
he could draw the corners together

turning one set of wing
tips up in the wind

and the other set
of wing tips down.

He realized in this way he could
control the shape of his wings

and would be able to roll
his aircraft in the sky.

[Jennifer] Okay.

So, now the Wright Brothers
have a proposed solution work

their biplane wings.

Using the engineering
method, the next step would be

to evaluate their solution
using tests and prototypes.

In other words, the
Wright Brothers needed

to put their wing warping
theory to the test.

[Dr. Crouch] That's
right, Jennifer.

They didn't begin by building
a powered flying machine.

They had to start by building
and testing prototypes.

And they started with
this small biplane kite.

Watch how this prototype flies.

Notice when you the pull on the
opposite strings, the kite rolls

to the left and right.

The wing twisting
concept Wilbur proposed

from the inner tube box actually
worked in his prototype kite.

[Jennifer] So, from the
success of their kite,

the Wright Brothers built
the first powered airplane?

[Dr. Crouch] Now, first they
built a series of three gliders

over three years and what
they learned helped them

to build the world's
first powered airplane.

[Jennifer] Hey, that
leads us to the final step

in the engineering method.

Select and refine
the best solution.

And in order to learn how
the Wright Brothers refined

and improved their flying machines,

we are here at The Wright
experience laboratory in Virginia.

We're talking with Ken Hyde.

He's the founder of
The Wright Experience.

Now, Ken, tell me.

How did the Wright Brothers improve
upon their flying machine designs.

[Ken] Well with each new design
and each new flight test,

they did small refinements and
small changes to their design.

There may have been many
problems at any given stage

of the flying machine's development

but the Wrights only
changed one thing at a time.

They were never confused

about which change was
causing which result.

[Jennifer] Ken, that
makes sense I mean

that way they could select
the changes that worked

and then continue to
refine their design.

[Ken] That's right and
Jennifer this is the result

of all their hard work.

This is a flying reproduction
of the 1902 glider.

[Jennifer] Ken, this
is quite different

from their original kite, isn't it.

[Ken] Not really it uses the
same principle of wing morphing

and wing twisting that they
used in the original kite.

But what was so important
and so radically different

about this glider from
their early designs was

that the 1902 glider was
the first aircraft ever

that solved the problem
of controlling an airplane

in all three axis:
Pitch, role and yaw.

Okay Jennifer, this is
the control for elevator

which controls the
pitch which is the up

and down movement of the aircraft.

Control roll, I can shift the
hip cradle back-and-forth.

Watch how the wings twist.

That would change the roll position
of the aircraft during flight.

But also wired into the hip
cradle is the control for yaw.

Watch how the tale
moves at the same time

that the wings are warping.

[Jennifer] This is so cool
but can you really fly this?

[Ken] Absolutely.

We have a 1902 simulator
that you can fly.

Come on. I'll show you.

Jennifer, this is our 1902 glider
simulator and it was developed

from the wind tunnel test
that we did on this machine.

Bill Hadden is our expert on
this and he is a good instructor

and he is going to
check you out on this

and tell you about the machine.

[Jennifer] Great.

Nice to meet you Bill.

[Bill] Hi, Jennifer.

[Jennifer] Tell me
about the simulator.

[Bill] This was based on the
wind tunnel numbers generated

by taking our full-scale
glider and putting it

in the Langley full-scale tunnel
in Hampton, Virginia operated

by Old Dominion University
and the results

of the wing tunnel test were
incorporated in flight simulator

by Burle Applied Research,

that's their business
making flight simulators.

So, when you fly the simulator,

you are flying actual
wind tunnel data results.

So, that's a lot of fun
would you like to try it?

[Jennifer] I thought
you would never ask.

I would love to try it.

[Bill] Okay.

Jennifer, on the left you see air
speed in knots that is 21 knots,

22 that's perfect right there.

Air speed control is critical.

If you get too slow it
will stall and too fast,

it can dive into the ground.

It's just elevator
control and hip cradle.

When you move the hip cradle,
you are warping the wings

to control roll and you are also
getting rutter movement with it.

[Jennifer] Well, it
took some practice

and it wasn't real comfortable
but I think I got the hip thing

and the elevator thing going.

I was finally able to make a glide
that lasted about 63 seconds.

Thank you so much, Bill.

[Bill] You're welcome.

[Ken] Well, how was it Jennifer?

[Jennifer] Oh, Ken,
it was incredible.

It was incredible.

I'll tell you it was a little
uncomfortable and it was kind

of difficult to maneuver
but I can really relate

to how the Wright
Brothers must have felt.

They had a lot of stamina in
order to be able to do this.

[Ken] They sure did.

In this 1902 glider all
of their innervations are

in this machine is what
they were striving for.

By 1903, the Wrights were ready
to add an engine and propellers.

The Wright Brothers break
through in propeller design came

when they realized that a
propeller was merely a wing

in rotation in a henicle
pattern creating lift

in a forward direction.

Once they saw the
propeller from this way,

they were able their wind
tunnel data about lift, drag,

to design an efficient propeller.

Jennifer, we also have a simulator
of the 1903 Kitty Hawk flier.

Would you like fly this machine?

[Jennifer] Of course, I would, Ken.

Now while I take flight on the
1903 simulator why don't you check

out how to build your own flying
machine and test its performance.

[Student] Hi.

We're students here at the
Dunseith Indian Day School here

at the Turtle Mountain
reservation in North Dakota.

[Students] Yeah.

[Student] In ancient America
our ancestor Jim took flight

and we celebrated this dream
through our dancers and stories

because American Indians
have always been fascinated

by the flight of the powerful
eagle and the graceful butterfly.

[Student] NASA CONNECT asked
us Dunseith Indian Day School

to show you this program
hands-on activity.

[Speaker] You can download a lesson
guide and a list of materials

on the NASA CONNECT website.

[Speaker] Here are
the main objectives.

[Speaker] Students
will predict the effect

of kite sail area on kite flight.

Measure the base and
height of the kite.

Use reflections to create kites.

Calculate area of a trapezoid.

Calculate aspect ratio.

Understand how early flight
was influenced by kites.

[Student] Here are some
things you will need to know.

[Speaker] The span of a kite is the
widest distance from side to side.

Aspect ratio is the ratio
of the square of the span

to the area of the kite.

Drag is a force that pushes against
an object and slows it down.

Lift is the aerodynamic force
that holds an airplane in the air.

[Speaker] Good morning, class.

Today NASA has asked us to
investigate the size of kite sails

to determine how area and aspect
ratio influence flight efficiency.

[Speaker] Three kites will be
built using different measurments

as outlined in the lesson guide.

First hold the long ends of
a piece of 8 1/2 by 11 sheet

of paper and fold it in half.

Starting at the fold, measure
3.5 centimeters along the top

of the paper and mark point A. Now,

measure nine centimeters
along the bottom

of the paper measuring
from the fold.

Mark point B. Draw
a line segment, AB.

Reflect line segment AB across the
fold line call the reflection point

A, A prime and the
reflection of point B, B prime.

Draw line segment A prime B prime.

Fold back along line
segments AB and line A prime,

B prime forming the kite shape.

Place a piece of tape
firmly where line segment AB

and A prime B prime meet.

Place a skewer stick along
the span of the kite and tape

down firmly along the entire
length of the skewer stick.

Cut off any excess.

Tape a kite tail to the
bottom of the kite sail

where point B meets point B prime.

Starting at the top of the
flap, which is labeled point F,

measure seven centimeters
down along the flap

and 1 centimeter in from the fold.

Mark and label point
E. Then punch a hole

at point E. All measurements will
be recorded on to the worksheet.

You will calculate and record the
kite sail area using using the

given formula: Area equals one-half
the height times the B sub 1

and B sub 2 where H is
the height and B sub 1

and B sub 2 are the bases.

Remember to multiply the value by
two to calculate the sail area.

You will also calculate and record
the aspect ratio using the formula

AR equals S square divided
by A where S is the kite span

and A is the kite sail area.

Tie one end of the string to
the hole and wind the other end

on to a cardboard string winder.

For the other two kites, repeat
the same steps adjusting the given

values for point A and point B
found in the educators guide.

Remember your reflexions.

Once you have completed your
calculation it is time to proceed

to the outdoor test flight.

[Speaker] Teams are you ready?

Let's let them fly.

[Students] Yeah.

[Speaker] Perform two trials for
each kite rotating student rolls

until all three kites have
completed their two trials.

[Speaker] There are two
questions that we need to answer.

How did the surface of
the kite effect its flight

and was this effect significant?

[Student] The smaller kite
didn't have enough space here,

surface area.

This flew just right.

Had enough surface area.

This did too much acrobatic.

[Speaker] What other
factors could be changed

to investigate the
effect on kite flight?

[Speaker] Josh.

[Josh] Weather, windtail,
surface area and weight.

[Speaker] When you
complete this activity,

discuss what improvements you
would make to your design.

A helpful tool is the
interactive kite modeler

from NASA Glenn research center.

On this website, you can
study the physics and math

which describe the
flight of a kite.

You can choose from several types
of kites and change the shape,

size, and materials to
produce your own design.

By selecting the field
button, the kite flies

with the control line
running from you to the kite.

Depending upon your choice,
different variables are shown.

The values of these variables
are shown on the output panel.

The kite modeler tells you if
your design is stable or not

and also computes a prediction
of how high your kite will fly.

Teachers, if you would like help

to perform the preceeding
kite building lesson,

simply enlist the help of an
AIAA mentor who will be glad

to assist your class
in these activities.

AIAA stands for the
American Institute

of Aeronautics and Astronauts.

[Jennifer] Wow, Ken.

This simulator for the
1903 flier is so different

from the simulator
for the 1902 flier.

[Ken] It really is.

[Jennifer] Thank you so much.

[Ken] Thank you.

[Jennifer] Okay.

Let's review.

So far we have learned how
civilizations throughout history

have dreamt of flight.

We have seen how the
engineering method can be used

for solving complex problems
and making dreams a reality

and you have applied a bit of
engineering method yourself

by building kites and
evaluating their performance.

So, what does all this
have to do with NASA today?

Well, Anna McGowan at NASA
Langley research center

in Hampton Virginia has the scoop.

[Speaker] How can biology be
helpful in designing aircraft?

[Speaker] What is the relationship
between pressure and force?

[Speaker] Why are the
computer simulations important

to the aircraft design process?

[Anna] The Wright
Brothers discovered ways

to sustain control flight.

Today at NASA, the
challenge is to research ways

to make life safer
and more efficient.

One piece of research NASA is doing
is called the morphing project.

The morphing project is part
of the next generation of break

through vehicle technologies.

It's about designing
the airplane of tomorrow

and changing the world again

in the process much like the
Wright Brothers invention changed

the world they lived in.

We got the word morphing
from the word metamorphosis.

The word morph means to
change and we are using a lot

of advanced materials and
technologies to research how

to make airplanes change from
one configuration to the other.

That's what engineers
and scientists

in NASA's morphing
project are trying to do,

transform the future of flight.

[Student] How do you
transform the future of flight?

[Anna] That's a great question.

The Wright Brothers by
watching birds soar.

[Speaker] And they designed
their airplanes with wings

that could manipulate the wind.

The Wrights didn't use flaps

on their machines like
airplanes have today.

In the morphing project, we
were working on making airplanes

as versatile as a bird is.

So, we are taking
some lessons learned

from nature just like
the Wright Brothers did.

[Speaker] We're researching

and teatsing many
advanced technologies.

One area is called smart materials.

[Speaker] We call these
materials smart materials

because unlike traditional

these materials actually move

when you apply a stimlus
like are voltage or heat.

They are similar to muscle
tissue in this way so instead

of using complicated, mechanical
gears to move or control parts

of future airplanes,
NASA is looking

at using these smart materials

as future control
devices on airplanes.

Another advance technology
that we are studying is called

adaptive structure.

In studying the structures for
future flight, we're actually look

at technologies that can
change the shape of parts

of the wing during flight.

[Speaker] Why do you
want to change the shape

of the wings during flight?

[Anna] Well, all wings
must be able to adapt

to different flight conditions.

Birds do this by gently bending

and twisting their
wings while they fly.

In today's airplane, we're using
flaps and slats to adjust the wings

to different flight conditions.

[Speaker] In the future, we
are hoping to enable wings

to gently change shape in many
different ways, similar to birds.

This is one example of an adaptive
structure that we are working on.

This wing changes shape for
different flight conditions.

It's designed very different
from today's airplane wing.

Today's airplane wing
are typically hollow

to hold fuel they
are also very stiff.

This adaptive wing instead has
a center spine to carry most

of the load and movable ribs
to change shape during flight.

We design airplane wings using
the principle of pressure.

The following algebraic equation
should help you understand

this principle.

Pressure is defined as the
force divided by the area

over which the force acts.

The force in this case
is the aerodynamic road.

Have you ever popped
a balloon with a nail?

It's pretty easy to pop
a balloon with one nail

because the force applied
to the balloon is acting

over a very small area,
only the head of the nail.

This means very large measure.

Now, if you try to pop the
same balloon with a bed

of nails applying the
same amount of force,

notice the balloon is
very difficult to pop.

[Speaker] Why is that?

[Anna] Because if area of the
bed of nails is much larger

than the area of the single nail.

If we refer back to the
equation for pressure

to keep the same force applied

but increase the area pressure
actually becomes much lower.

With this adaptive wing, we
want to make sure the force

or the aerodynamic load
is distributed evenly

across the wing preventing
the wing from breaking.

We actually call this adaptive
wing here the fish bone wing

because it resembles the
spine and ribs of the fish.

To understand and design the fish
bone wing, the engineers here

at NASA use advanced
computer simulations.

These computer simulations help
us understand the mechanics

of the fish bone wing and tell
us how the wing will perform

in real life.

We are even looking at new
ways to control the air flow

over the wings of future airplanes.

The study of air flow
is called aerodynamics

and today's airplanes use large
flaps to control aerodynamics.

For future airplanes, we
are developing technologies

that use very small devices to
control the air flow on airplanes.

We call this microflow control.

For example, tiny fluctuating jets
that create a small plume of air

on the surface of the wing can
be used to make the flow smoother

and less turbulant
and this reduces drag.

By reducing drag, we
can save on fuel cost

and also reduce the
amount of pollution coming

from the airplane engines.

Here is an example
of one of these jets.

This device would suck in air
and blow out air very rapidly

to control the air
flow over the wing.

Now, several of these devices
would be placed in a wing

to control the air flow
over an entire wing.

Even this example is
similar to how a bird flies.

In addition to twisting and
bending their wings in flight,

birds also rely on their feathers

to adjust the air
flow over their wings.

Finally, we are applying
the principle of bionetics

in the morphing project.

[Student] Bio what?

[Speaker] Bionetics
is the abstraction

of good design from nature.

In other words, you
look at how nature works

for maximum achievement
at minimal efforts.

[Speaker] Today, we are even
examining the shape of fish fins

because in a way, fish are
flying through the water.

[Speaker] Here are several examples

of different fish fins
that we're studying.

We actually work with
marine biologists

to understand how the fish swim

and how they are really
efficient fliers.

[Speaker] We also study sea gulls.

Sea gulls can soar really well
and their unique wing shape is one

of the reasons they
fly so efficiently.

[Anna] Here is an example of a
wing that we would actually design

for wind tunnel testing.

We call this the Hyper-Elliptical
Camber Span

because of the really unique shape

and because we use ellipsis
to design this swing.

In the morphing project, we
take lessons learned not only

from biology but we also use a
lot of advanced technologies,

new math new approaches
and new science

to really make future airplanes
even safer than they are today.

We also want to make them
more capable and able to fly

in new and different ways.

We also want to make them more
efficient to help with pollution

and also reduce the cost of flying.

NASA's morphing project is
looking to the future and trying

to transform the future of flight.

[Jennifer] Thanks Anna.

Now it is time for
a cue card review.

How can biology be helpful
in designing aircraft?

What is the relationship
between pressure and force?

Why are computer simulations

in aircraft design process?

If you are watching this
on videotape you will want

to pause the tape to
discuss these questions.

Okay. Did you get all that?

So far we have seen how the Wright
Brothers began powered flight

for humans s and we have seen
how NASA is working to apply some

of the early principles of flight
that the Wright Brothers perfected.

You know aeronautics sure
has seen a lot of changes

in the last 100 years.

Let's visit Dan Jerrell
and his web domain.

[Dan] Hi and welcome to my domain.

The U.S. centenial flight commision
was created by the U.S. Congress

to serve as a national and
international source of information

about activities to
commemorate the centennial

of the first powered flight.

On this site, you can
learn about America's plans

for celebrating the
100th anniversary

of the first Wright Brother flight.

Check out the sights
and sounds section

where you will see pictures
and download movies.

There are hot links
to cool websites

about aeronautics and astronautics.

This site is a repository for many
things related to the Wrights.

For educators, there are there
are several links to activities

that encourage educators
and students

to explore the Wright Brothers
flight experiments and to research,

plan, and participate
in your own centennial

of flight activites and events.

There are also cool downloads for
posters featuring famous firsts

and spectacular images from
aviation history to present day

and now back to you Jennifer.

[Jennifer] Well, that wraps up
another episode of NASA CONNECT.

We would like to thank everyone who
helped make this program possible.

Got a comment question
or suggestion?

E-mail them to or pick

up a pen and mail

NASA Center for Distance Learning,
NASA Langley Research Center,

Mail Stop 400, Hampton,
Virginia 23681.

Teachers, if you would like
a videotape of this program

and the accompanying lesson guide,
check out the NASA CONNECT website.

So, until next time
stay connected to math,

science, technology and NASA.

See you then.