Landing Time of a Parachute – Air Resistance

Creative Commons image from Wikimedia

Learning Intention: To investigate the effects of forces and to design, carry out and report on a simple practical experiment with controlled variables.

Success Criteria: Students will design and carry out an experiment to find out the effect of different factors (mass of object, size of canopy or shape of canopy) on the landing times of a parachute with a toy (Barbie, toy soldier or Lego man) attached. They will vary only one factor, collect data to gain an average of at least three ‘jumps’  and record their results in a table. Students will complete a report of their investigation that includes Aim, Method, Materials, Results, Discussion and Conclusion.

When objects are dropped from a height, gravity is not the only force acting upon them. You would feel the other forces if you jumped from a plane, as air resistance. The picture above shows the design of the world’s first human parachute – can you think of any animals use air resistance to aid movement?

Your task this week is to find out the effect of one of the following variables (something that changes) on the landing time of a parachute. You can use cotton or nylon thread to attach the parachute and drop it from at least two metres.

  • Mass of the skydiver (use a Barbie doll, toy soldier or Lego man with weights added)
  • Size (area) of the canopy (use plastic freezer bags or garbage bags)
  • Shape of the canopy

Make sure that only one of these factors changes and repeat each trial at least three times. Draw up a table to record your results.