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Helicopter Investigation.

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Helicopter Investigation

Aim:  To investigate the factors that effect the time for a card helicopter to reach terminal velocity.

Theory/Key Factors:  When a helicopter wants to take off it starts its blades moving, and the blades push air under themselves until it they have enough air under them to take off.  This is related to a sycamore seed, which is what I am basing my helicopters shape on.  Terminal velocity is when air resistance is equal to the force of gravity acting on the helicopter.  Therefore, the acceleration is zero and the helicopter falls at a constant speed.  When my helicopter starts to spin it means that it has reached terminal velocity.

The bigger the air resistance is on the helicopter is, the larger the surface area is, and consequently it will take longer to fall. The speed at which the helicopter falls at also depends on the conditions that I drop it in.  To get round the problem of it being an unfair test if we dropped it outside, because of the wind speed, I have decided to drop the helicopter inside.  The shape and size of the wings could affect the speed because some of the wing shapes might be more aerodynamic, in which case it would fall at a faster rate.  In addition to this, the length of the handle of the helicopter might influence the rate at which it falls.


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Preliminary Conclusion

From my preliminary experiment I can see that overall the best helicopter wingspan for my experiment is thirty cm2 and the best range of paperclips to have on the helicopter is between one paperclip and four paperclips.  I chose these two factors because when using one or four paperclips the helicopter reached terminal velocity the quickest, the and when I used a wingspan of thirty cm2 it reached terminal velocity fastest.


Number of paperclips

Time when dropped (s)

Time when helicopter reached terminal velocity (s)

Average time when started to spin (s)

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The evidence found can’t be trusted fully for its scientific merit as there is a large possibility that a substantial amount of human error was involved.  The method  itself has a lot of faults due to human error.  These include, the delay when starting the stopwatch for when the helicopter starts to fall, when it starts spinning and when for when it finally reaches the floor.  In addition to this, the height and angle from which the helicopter was dropped from was not constant throughout the investigation, due to the fact that when I was dropping it I had my arm at different angles and at slightly different heights.  As you can see from my graph, the experiment I did with two paperclips was the most accurate because the error bars are very close together.  The experiment I did with three paperclips was the least precise because the error bars are spread out more.  Due to Galileo’s theory I can’t single out the anomalies because Galileo says that there should be only one correct answer, however I can’t tell which one it is.  To stop this from happening again, I could make my results more accurate by using a stopwatch that went to more decimal places.  I could also test a wider range of paperclips so that I would be testing from no paperclips at all, until I reached an amount of paperclips where the helicopter didn’t have time to start spinning.

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