Make Physics Fun with a Trebuchet

What goes up must come down. And what goes way, way up can come down way, way too fast to survive the sudden stop. That’s why [Tom Stanton] built an altitude recording projectile into an oversized golf ball with parachute-controlled descent. Oh, and there’s a trebuchet too.

That’s a lot to unpack, but suffice it to say, all this stems from [Tom]’s obvious appreciation for physics. Where most of us would be satisfied with tossing a ball into the air and estimating the height to solve the classic kinematic equations from Physics 101, [Tom] decided that more extreme means were needed.

Having a compound trebuchet close at hand, a few simple mods were all it took to launch projectiles more or less straight up. The first payload was to be rocket-shaped, but that proved difficult to launch. So [Tom] 3D-printed an upsized golf ball and packed it with electronics to record the details of its brief ballistic flight. Aside from an altimeter, there’s a small servo controlled by an Arduino and an accelerometer. The servo retracts a pin holding the two halves of the ball together, allowing a parachute to deploy and return the package safely to Earth. The video below shows some pretty exciting launches, the best of which reached over 60 meters high.

The skies in the field behind [Tom]’s house are an exciting place. Between flying supercapacitors, reaction wheel drones, and low-altitude ISS flybys, there’s always something going on up there.

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MCAS and the 737: When Small Changes have Huge Consequences

When the first 737 MAX entered service in May of 2017, it was considered a major milestone for Boeing. For nearly a decade, the aerospace giant had been working on a more fuel efficient iteration of the classic 737 that first took to the skies in 1967. Powered by cutting-edge CFM International LEAP engines, and sporting modern aerodynamic improvements such as unique split wingtips, Boeing built the new 737 to have an operating cost that was competitive with the latest designs from Airbus. With over 5,000 orders placed between the different 737 MAX variants, the aircraft was an instant success.

But now, in response to a pair of accidents which claimed 346 lives, the entire Boeing 737 MAX global fleet is grounded. While the investigations into these tragedies are still ongoing, the preliminary findings are too similar to ignore. In both cases, it appears the aircraft put itself into a dive despite the efforts of the crew to maintain altitude. While the Federal Aviation Administration initially hesitated to suspend operations of the Boeing 737 MAX, they eventually agreed with government regulatory bodies all over the world to call for a temporary ban on operating the planes until the cause of these accidents can be identified and resolved.

For their part, Boeing maintains their aircraft is safe. They say that grounding the fleet was done out of an “abundance of caution”, rather than in direct response to a particular deficiency of the aircraft:

Boeing continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX.  However, after consultation with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and aviation authorities and its customers around the world, Boeing has determined — out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety — to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet of 371 737 MAX aircraft.

Until both accident investigations are completed, nobody can say with complete certainty what caused the loss of the aircraft and their passengers. But with the available information about what changes were made during the 737 redesign, along with Boeing’s own recommendations to operators, industry insiders have started to point towards a fault in the plane’s new Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) as a likely culprit in both accidents.

Despite the billions of dollars spent developing these incredibly complex aircraft, and the exceptionally stringent standards their operation is held to, there’s now a strong indication that the Boeing 737 MAX could be plagued with two common issues that we’ve likely all experienced in the past: a software glitch and poor documentation.

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Scratch-Built Ornithopter: Here’s How I Flapped My Way to Flight

One of humankind’s dreams has always been to fly like a bird. For a hacker, an achievable step along the path to that dream is to make an ornithopter — a machine which flies by flapping its wings. An RC controlled one would be wonderful, controlled flight is what everyone wants. Building a flying machine from scratch is a big enough challenge, and a better jumping-off point is to make a rubber band driven one first.

I experimented with designs which are available on the internet, to learn as much as possible, but I started from scratch in terms of material selection and dimensions. You learn a lot about flight through trial and error, and I’m happy to report that in the end I achieved a great little flyer built with a hobby knife and my own two hands. Since then I’ve been looking back on what made that project work, and it’s turned into a great article for Hackaday. Let’s dig in!

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Retrotechtacular: Forces Acting On An Airfoil

floating film title We’ve probably all experimented with a very clear demonstration of the basic principles of lift: if you’re riding in a car and you put your flattened hand out the window at different angles, your hand will rise and fall like an airplane’s wing, or airfoil. This week’s Retrotechtacular explains exactly how flight is possible through the principles of lift and drag. It’s an Army training documentary from 1941 titled “Aerodynamics: Forces Acting on an Air Foil“.

What is an airfoil? Contextually speaking, it’s the shape of an airplane’s wing. In the face of pressure differences acting upon their surfaces, airfoils produce a useful aerodynamic reaction, such as the lift that makes flight possible. As the film explains, the ideas of lift and drag are measured against the yardstick of relative wind. The force of this wind on the airfoil changes according to the acute angle formed between the airfoil and the direction of the air flow acting upon it. As you may already know, lift is measured at right angles to the relative wind, and drag occurs parallel to it. Lift is opposed by the weight of the foil, and drag by tension.

wind tunnel testing

Airfoils come in several types of thicknesses and curvatures, and the film shows how a chord is derived from each shape. These chords are used to measure and describe the angle of attack in relation to the relative wind.

The forces that act upon an airfoil are measured in wind tunnels which provide straight and predictable airflow. A model airplane is supported by wires that lead to scales. These scales measure drag as well as front and rear lift.

In experimenting with angles of attack, lift and drag increase toward what is known as the stalling angle. After this point, lift decreases abruptly, and drag takes over. Lift and drag are proportional to the area of the wing, the relative wind velocity squared, and the air density. When a plane is in the air, drag is a retarding force that equals the thrust of the craft, or the propelling force.

monometer tubesAirfoil models are also unit tested in wind tunnels. They are built with small tubes running along many points of the foil that sit just under the surface. The tubes leave the model at a single point and are connected to a bank of manometer tubes. These tubes compare the pressures acting on the airfoil model to the reference point of atmospheric pressure. The different liquid levels in the manometer tubes give clear proof of the pressure values along the airfoil. These levels are photographed and mapped to a pressure curve. Now, a diagram can be made to show the positive and negative pressures relative to the angle of attack.

In closing, we are shown the effects of a dive on lift as an aircraft approaches and reaches terminal velocity, and that lift is attained again by pulling slowly out of the dive. Remember that the next time you fly your hand-plane out the window.

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Geo Metro halved for better mileage


[Doug Heffron] modified this 1989 Geo Metro way back in 1993. Gas prices had just started breaking $1.00/gallon and he wanted to show manufacturers how to build a fuel efficient vehicle in such troubling times. The car already got 58mpg (Prius: 46mpg), but [Doug] decided he could do better with some aero modifications. The car was converted to tandem seating and stripped of any extra weight. In its final form, it got 75mpg, but then gas prices stabilized and it was laid to rest in a shed. You can find out more about the car and see photos from the build on its site (painful resizing).

[via Autoblog]