Aiming for awesome: air speed record


Funded by the Chancellor using LIBOR funds

RAF 100: Aiming for Awesome celebrates the centenary of the RAF and explores its engineering achievements over the last 100 years. There are 10 resources, each covering a different decade of RAF history. Each resource allows Key Stage 2 and 3 pupils to explore, through hands on activities, the applications of the knowledge they learn in science, design and technology, mathematics and computing.

1938 - 1948 Speed record

The aim of this resource is to give students the opportunity to investigate the impact of STEM on the air speed record.  Students will learn about the first air speed record set by Wilbur Wright in 1903 at 6.82mph and how within 100 years with the advancement of aircraft technology it currently stands at over 2,000mph.

Through practical activities students will use distance and time calculations to work out the speed of given aircraft and understand about the vortex which is created around the wing of an aircraft when it is travelling through the air.  Students will make their own vortex cannon and investigate how the distance the vortex travels affects its strength.

Student activities

Activities - Speed Record

Time to calculate: the speed of an aircraft tells you how fast or slow it is moving. Using the speed = distance over time equation given, calculate the speed of the two given aircraft in the resource (the Albermarle and the de Havilland Hornet).

Stretch and challenge: re-arrange the equation to work out how far the Spitfire aircraft could travel in 45 minutes at its top speed of 330mph.

Activities - Vortex

Time to make: students will make a cannon using a plastic bottle, balloons, scissors and tape to investigate a vortex.

Time to investigate: using the cannon vortex, students will investigate how the distance the vortex travels affects its strength.


The activities are expected to last 60 minutes.

What you'll need

The following items per student:

  • Balloon - try  'balloons' 100 pack 06-9972
  • 3 plastic bottles
  • Tape
  • Tea light candle
  • Matches or Bunsen burner and splint

Student guide

The student version of this resource can be downloaded here: Speed record - student guide.

Supported by

  • Royal Academy of Engineering
  • RAF 100
  • 2018 YoE