This is a bit of an open ended question.

Every year or so, one of the youth groups associated with local churches will want me to come and do some evening youth activity with them about aviation/engineering. The easy solution is to just lecture aviation things at them, but I find that's not very rewarding for me or them. The recent request is to spend some time, 90 minutes-ish, on a weekday evening, with young men, age 15-18, 8+/-4 youth. It's too many (and too cold) right now, to do much out at the local airport I think. We could go look at the plane I fly, but.. meh. There's only so much I can do with paper airplanes and aerodynamics.

I'm soliciting a format suggestion for what to do that would be entertaining/engaging/educational. I could possibly break whatever I did up into 2 different evenings if it were a longer format.

(feel free to slap some better tags if there are any on this)

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    $\begingroup$ I’d love to look at airplanes and airports and have somebody explain how it all works to me. I also think you underestimate the appeal of going somewhere where the normal public can’t go. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 7:14
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have experience building model airplanes other than paper airplanes? I mean, the balsa and tissue variety. A classic AMA activity is to build the delta dart: outerzone.co.uk/plan_details.asp?ID=7931 . It's fairly easy to build and you can teach them about trimming. $\endgroup$
    – slebetman
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 8:45
  • $\begingroup$ I sometimes do a charity day taking disabled kids (& their families) up, for about fifteen minutes, in my PA-28. It's surprising how amazed and awestruck they are by it. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ "We could go look at the plane I fly, but.. meh" - That sounds absolutely fan-bloody-tastic. Do that. $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 20:06
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    $\begingroup$ the "8-18 y/o young man" (why only boys? take the girls, too!) i was, plus all of my friends at that age would have LOVED a tour around an airplane! one of my most cherished childhood memories was, when at age 8, i was allowed into the cockpit by the flight attendant and the pilot let me turn the auto pilot's heading knob. imagine doing that as an 8 y/o and the ginormous 737 you're on starts doing something because of it! also, what is being discussed in the comments: absolutely build small freeflying foam airplanes together :) $\endgroup$
    – Sixtyfive
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 11:03

3 Answers 3


Play Flight Simulator on a PC or Console

Youth love video games. They get excited when there's competition. Kids (and adults) are fascinated by large transport aircraft, often because everybody's got personal experience.

If I were to do it, I'd get a gaming PC/Xbox, a basic control setup (they have Boeing and Airbus setups for not much money), and a TV or projector. Microsoft Flight Simulator has a bunch of competitive scenarios, for example, landings where it gives you a score.

Start off by teaching them how to play, and this is where the education comes in. For example, controlling the flight path leads to a discussion of AoA and control surfaces. Controlling speed, you show them the engine instruments, and you discuss how an engine works. Teaching them how to read the FD leads to a discussion of avionics. Maybe you have a few slides about this.

Letting the students play is fun and competitive and you can insert lessons. For example, kid pulled up too hard and stalled, now you briefly talk about that. Player lands great, so turn off ILS and teach them how to read the PAPIs.

Even though it's just a simulation and a video game, it feels more authentic than paper airplanes.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I run FlightGear on my laptop, which definitely not a gaming PC (8 GB RAM, Intel Core i3, integrated graphics), with no issues, although I only fly GA planes, not airliners, so airliners might need a more powerful computer. $\endgroup$
    – Someone
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 1:20
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    $\begingroup$ Won't this have the issue of being able to accommodate only one of the children at a time, while the rest can only look? And if there are many of them, then they will individually have a short time at the controls. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 5:19
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    $\begingroup$ @vsz Sure, but with the worst-case 12 participants x 5 minutes = 1 hour, less than their allotted time. And also watching and commentating on others playing video games is popular entertainment: see Twitch. $\endgroup$
    – user71659
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 5:46
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    $\begingroup$ I had a similar idea, preferably if you own a recent X-Plane: Maybe make a competition who is fastest on a circle around the airport (i.e. takeoff, circle and land on the same runway again). You could try the Cessna, the F-4 (Phantom) and the F-35 just to demonstrate how different those are. Finally you could also use a helicopter. And for the winner discuss why he/she was the fastest. You could also do a boring lecture on real-life regulations ;-) $\endgroup$
    – U. Windl
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 14:02
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    $\begingroup$ This was exactly my idea. Anyone can play MSFS, but barely anyone with commentary from the real pilot. There is an enormous amount of things you got used to, but a lot of non-aviators have no idea about. Like, conditions and consequences of icing. VFR into IMC. The ability to land propeller plane with no engine. The ability to land a helicopter with no engine. I am no pilot, but those were really interesting when I learned about them. I bet you can list a number of them. And then do a competition of a simple landing. Each attempt takes around 2-3 minutes, so a lot of people will be able totry $\endgroup$
    – Spook
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 20:14

I'm both a pilot and an Eagle Scout, so I'd love to help your 90 minutes be spectacular.

I would break this into three sections with hands-on demos, which will keep things moving, and expand their minds a bit.

  1. Bernoulli effect that creates lift above a wing. And stalling.
  2. The balancing act between speed and horizontal stabilizer down-force.
  3. Basic Radio: Who you are, where you are, and what you want.

Your best bet is to explain the science behind it, then hands on demo.

Come prepared with some basic props for each section, have them work together maybe in groups of two or three.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Regarding the basic radio, it might also be interesting to introduce one of the live ATC sites. Tune in and listen to the radio at a major airport. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 11:50
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    $\begingroup$ Re 1. a) I do not like the use of the word effect here, it is much better to talk about the Bernoulli's equation or Bernoulli's principle. It is not really an effect, it is a conservation law. b) One has to be really careful as way too many demonstrations are principally wrong and show flows like jets and compare what happens inside and outside of the jet. The B. principle only applies at distinct points along a single streamline. It does not say anything about what happens on different streamlines. For stalling, the Bernoulli is already problematic as turbulent mixing typically happens. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ When listing to the radio, you can simultaneously watch flight radar to see movement of the planes mid-air or on the ground. $\endgroup$
    – usr1234567
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, no explanation of lift involving Bernoulli's principle has ever made sense to me (and I'm a pretty smart cookie who knows the fundamentals of aerodynamics pretty decently). You can start with the premise that the air above the wing is moving faster (relative to the wing), along with some other premises, and eventually conclude that there must be lift, but that leaves a critical question unanswered: why does the air above the wing move faster? I've never heard a correct explanation of that. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ @TannerSwett It's worse than that. Bernoulli's principle is based on conservation of energy: if there's no other source of energy, then any increase in kinetic energy (velocity) must come from a decrease of internal energy (pressure). But how can one possibly take the energy of the air to be constant? The whole point of the wing is to exert a force on the air. I find the laminar explanation more plausible: the air sticks to the wing, so since the end of the wing is angled down, the air leaves the wing with a downward velocity. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 1:43

Why not paper airplanes?

A contest: "Who can make their plane fly the farthest?" Then, "Why?" Design, construction...Analyze the 'What made a difference'

The Great International Paper Airplane Book might serve as a starting point.

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    $\begingroup$ I’m not opposed to doing something with paper airplanes. Just trying to figure out a good way to interweave it with some actual aviator stuff. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 21:45

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