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Human Airplanes

Airplanes are complex machines. Despite their size and thousands of parts, they only need 4 forces to get lift off and stay in flight.

Thrust moves a plane forward. Drag slows it down. Gravity pulls a plane down toward the Earth, and lift raises it up into the sky.

To stay in the air, the plane must have enough thrust to fight against the drag. It must also have enough lift to overcome the Earth's gravity. To slow down and land, the plane will need more drag than thrust, and the lift must be weaker than gravity.

Thrust, drag, gravity, and lift all work together to get heavy airplanes, and their passengers, safely around the world.

In this game, the students are the aircrafts, subject to the four forces of flight.


  • Describe the four forces involved in flight.


  • playing field

  • cones or rope to mark the start and finish lines

Key Questions

  • Which force opposes gravity?
  • Which force opposes drag?

What To Do

  1. The students line up along one side of the field and put out their arms as wings (optional).
  2. ​The first “plane” to make it across the finish line while performing the actions given bytheir teacher is the winner. The actions are as follow:

Thrust: students run forward.
Drag: students walk backward to the start line.
Lift: students jump up (and down!)
Gravity: students fall to the floor

  1. The students must continue their current action until the teacher calls a new one.


  • What happens to an aircraft in flight when all 4 fours are in equilibrium?