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You’ll Never Believe How We Taught Science Today at Orbitur Rio Alto

You’ll Never Believe How We Taught Science Today at Orbitur Rio AltoScore 66%Score 66%

As any ‘world schooler‘ or ‘road schooling family‘ knows… you sometimes have to seize a moment and take the opportunity to make learning fun… so where better than the beach at Orbitur’s Rio Alto campsite on a crisp, sunny morning in December!

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And a chance to discover some of the Science work we learnt in Da Vinci’s museum in Florence, the Science Museum in Munich, Germany and more recently in Portugal’s Science Centre in Lagos. So today’s topic was an extension on our ‘green energy‘ work from earlier this year… but this time we were going to add some physics in… How does a helicopter fly?? What makes it the most versatile of all airborne inventions created by man so far? In fact it has a certain similarity to a BumbleBee… so we’re told..

So where’s the Science?

So think about these 4 important factors – Lift, Drag, Thrust, Weight & Force…The Force(little bit of physics road schooling here!) needed to keep an aircraft in the air is called ‘Lift‘ It is produced by air flowing over the wings. The shape of the wings is designed so that the air flowing over the top surface has to travel further, and it therefore travels faster, than the air under the wing. (Imagine (Don’t Try!) putting you arm out of the window of a moving car.  You will feel your arm start to rise upwards, and this is due to ‘Lift‘.)

An engine produces ‘Thrust,’ which gets you moving, so that air flows over the wings of the plane. Thrust also solves ‘Drag,’ which is the force which tries to oppose the motion through the air. The other force is ’Weight.’ and the weight of any aircraft determines how much lift is required to get it into the air.

So what about Helicopters?

Ok, in truth a helicopter is more complex, however the fundamental principles of flight are the same.  The rotor blades of a helicopter are identical to the wings of an aeroplane –when air is blown over them, ‘Lift’ is produced.  The crucial difference is that the flow of air is produced by rotating the wings – or rotor blades – rather than by moving the whole aircraft.  As they start to spin, the air flowing over them produces lift, and this can cause the helicopter to rise into the air.  So, the engine is used to turn the blades, and the turning blades produce the required lift. Very simple!

What experiments did we try?

  • ​We tried throwing the newly purchased (15 euro from the girl’s favourite shop Tiger in Porto) helicopter into the air to start the process…. too much force! too unstable!
  • We tried to add weight to the helicopter so it was too heavy (elastic band/pebble)… it failed to lift off
  • We tried to fly it to the sun…. it failed as it got out of range at 30m high! So we had to make a desperate diving catch to avoid the small craft from disasterous damage!
  • We tried to fly it backwards to see if it would go faster it didn’t, too much weight distribution at back

Rio Alto

so where did we park the bus for the night?

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About The Author


Ever wanted to pack your bags, just jump in a motorhome and go off and explore Europe as a family? Well, that’s exactly what my family has done since September 2015. Visiting 35 European countries, travelling over 54,000 miles and grabbing over 450 family experiences on the way… enjoying Bobsleigh in Norway, Climbing into Mt Etna in Sicily or Kayaking the River Dordogne.

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