Activity: Design a Parachute



After a discussion about what a parachute is and how it works, students will create a parachute using different materials that they think will work best. The students will test their designs, which will be followed by a class discussion (and possible journal writing) to highlight which paper material worked best.

LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY [1 = Least Difficult : 5 = Most Difficult]

1-least difficult


30 minutes for construction, 30 minutes for testing and classroom discussion/journal writing


less than $10, possible to use any materials immediately at hand


1 .1 Given a design task, identify appropriate materials (e.g., wood, paper, plastic, aggregates, ceramics, metals, solvents, adhesives) based on specific properties and characteristics (i.e., weight, strength, hardness and flexibility).
2.3 Describe and explain the purpose of a given prototype.
2 .4 Identify appropriate materials, tools, and machines needed to construct a prototype of a given engineering design.
2 .5 Explain how such design features as size, shape, weight, function and cost limitations (i.e., ergonomics) would affect the construction of a given prototype.

What a parachute is and how it works.
Techniques for designing a parachute that falls slowly.
Determining which type of material works best by testing different options.
How air resistance plays a role in flying.

A parachute is an umbrella-shaped device of light fabric used especially for making a safe jump from an aircraft.
Drag is the force that acts on a body (parachute) to slow down its motion through a fluid (air).
Air resistance is an opposing or slowing force that acts on anything moving through the air.
Without air resistance, or drag, objects would continue to increase speed until the object hit the ground.
The larger the object, the greater its air resistance. Parachutes use a large canopy to increase air resistance. This gives a slow fall and a soft landing.
RESOURCES: - provides a history of parachutes and good pictures - explanation of air resistance with the use of diagrams - explanation of air resistance

Tissue paper
Construction paper
Paper towels
Weights (i.e. washers)
Buy or gather available materials


1. Discuss with the class what a parachute is and how it works.
2. Have the each team brainstorm characteristics of a good parachute document their thoughts and sketch their design before construction begins.

Parachute Construction
1. Cut a circle from the paper you choose (or other shape that you may want to test). Make a hole in the center of the shape.
2. Cut six pieces of equal length string and tape them at equal distances around the edge of your shape.
3. Tape the other ends of the string to the weight.
4. To test: go outside and drop your parachute from a height to see if it flies slowly and lands gently.

Extension 1: Using the paper material that worked the best, you can do the same activity testing the size of the parachute. Have students test circles with different radii to find the optimal size.
Extension 2: Try parachutes with and without holes in the top and different sized holes.
Extension 3: Make parachutes out of different materials: plastics, cotton, nylon.
Extenstion 4: Have a competition to find a design that can land a toy vehicle most gently.

What type of paper is the best material to make a parachute? Why?
What didn't work as a good material? Why?
What changes could you make to improve your design?

Richards, Roy. An Early Start to Technology. Hemel Hempstead: Simon and Schuster Ltd, 1990, p.54.
Challoner, Jack. Flight (Make it Work.) World Book Inc, Chicago, 1998. pp. 18-19.


See Associated Download.


See Associated Download.