Help! HS Educator Using FT for Eng Class...but FT STEM section is a little scarce


New member
Hi FT World,

I am a high school engineering teacher. I wanted to introduce my students to the world of RC planes and all of its engineering challenges. I was very excited to look into FT STEM's materials, but I have found them all to be, well, unusable. They seem like they were written as reminders for the teacher who had developed them, not to be used by other teachers. There just isn't enough detail--I need something else.

So I'm reaching out to the community! My goal for the class is to get my students to design their own plane and get it in the air. They will be starting from nearly scratch, though they are trained in AutoCAD and OnShape (SolidWorks equivalent). I thought I would structure the unit like this:

1. Teach basic concepts of aerodynamics, like lift and thrust/weight ratios, etc. Maybe take two or three days with it is all, giving them basic design principles.
2. Have them construct a FT plane kit with all of the components to build a working plane and get it in the air. This would show them what the guts of a working plane needs, what good wing area to weight ratios are, etc. Also gives them flying experience.
2. Attempt to design their own plane from scratch, starting with a glider. Let them tweak/replace/repair, to their hearts' content until it flies decently.
3. Let them carve out their glider and install motors, servos, etc, and get it into the air.

I have all semester to do it, and I think it's a feasible amount of time. My current hurdles:

1. I need a source material for the aerodynamics principles. I've been trying to find some good sources to help me find the appropriate thrust/weight ratios, wing area formulae, etc. but it's hard. I'm a very fast study (MS in engineering, former NASA employee...I can handle it) if I can just find the right source info. Anyone know any or have any good design principles?
2. I need to know how much foam board to buy. I have 9 students. I'll get the glue guns and other materials just fine, but I am not sure how much foam board goes into a plane. I'm pretty new but learning fast.
3. Any tips, or wisdom you can share with me as I begin my own journey into RC planes with my students?



Legendary member
first thing you need is a simulator so your kids can actually learn to fly while doing this. don't have them create what could be an amazing flyer, then nose it in on the first flight because they have never flown. smart boards make awesome simulator screens...

next, they need to understand the basic build techniques used to create an FT airplane, ie- a fold, b-fold, hot glue, squeegee, ... buy a kit and have them build it and fly it, ref first thing.

next, next, gliders are great trainers but if your doing true gliders w/o electric motor assist you will also need to get/learn how to use a high start. you have to get them in the air somehow.

sheets of foam per plane? most FT full size are 3-4 sheets. if you account for mistakes and prototypes, i'd say 3x that amount.

electronics can also be your biggest issue. if you already have FT Stem, then you at least get a discount. you will need 2 servos per plane minimum. depending upon the size, these can be cheap or expensive. i would recommend staying in the 9g range to save cash. if putting motors on then you will need one each of those, plus a suitable ESC and prop. last is the battery, i would try and stay in the 2S-3S 850mah range. these can be found pretty cheap. depending upon who and where you buy from, this can be $40 per plane in total easy.

next and last is the Tx and Rx combo. what is your plan for this? each boy gets one? you share? this can take that $40 number and quickly turn to $100+ depending. you can find cheap combos from HK for just over $30 but they have no bells or whistles and you will need to make sure the planes are setup mechanically because you will not be able to fix with the transmitter programing. if you are sharing, you will go crazy from having to bind and setup each airplane each time you fly it. something will inevitably go wrong, a servo will be reversed, and a plane will go down.

as for design, have them check out as many "scratch built" designs as possible. 600+ plans. preach that Center of Gravity is THE LAW! use eCalc to help determine. the rest is just fun. get wild, get crazy, you would be amazed at what you can get to fly.

good luck,

me :cool:


Well-known member
I'm learning now as an adult so find your post intriguing. Also hoping to help a friend's home schooled son thus my interest in the STEM stuff.

You ask some questions similar to some I have. I know it may sound a bit simple but I've learned a lot from searching the internet as a new and curious flyer. Flite Test is a great resource but from what you've said, you're developing a more intensive curriculum than Flite Test offers with STEM. You don't say what grade/age the course is intended.

I was lucky as a high school student. We had a teacher with a pilot's license and she put us through the Transport Canada ground school manual. We also built a plane. Mine was a 6 foot wingspan balsa glider. She took us for a flight in her small Cessna to show us how the controls and instruments worked in real life. We had a commercial pilot college nearby and I know she drew on that for some of her material. That experience combined with the learning phase I'm in now may offer some insight.

Taking students through an approved ground school course as part of the curriculum lends a much easier time continuing to a full pilot's license or drone operators license, if students choose. It's an ace up their sleeve. Two students from our class went on the get commercial licenses and two got private licenses. Get them building and testing small chuck gliders early. They don't need to know why it flies in terms of physics. They need a hook and something to think about as they learn more. Our planes weren't done for months and I just wanted to fly the darned thing. Wish we'd had resources like Flite Test, simulators and the electronics to back it up then.

As you know, CAD is essential for designing almost anything these days, so your students have a leg up there. I've been wanting to learn it and had a thought the other day. If I could get ahold of the CAD drawings for Flite Test planes, it would be a great resource to teach me CAD. I could also modify existing plans and watch the effect on the plane. Not sure if Flite Test would be open to something like this for educational purposes but it never hurts to ask. If not, I would expect there's some way to import a PDF into a CAD program. Either way, existing plans for planes would be a great resource in terms of learning design.

I think a lot of the articles and videos on the main Flite Test site would be perfect as supplemental material. Their obvious joy of building and flying is infectious. Your engineering/NASA experience will make it far easier to plow through the multitudes of material on the internet. I'd also add that what you're describing likely hasn't been done with recent material and knowledge.

I commend you for doing this. As an older, newbie RC flyer, I draw on what I learned 40 years ago. I have a strong understanding of the basics of flight. I learned that because of someone like you. A teacher willing to step outside the box. I went to math, physics and chemistry classes but it was aviation class I looked forward to most. I love math and physics but aviation gave me a way to apply both, and I loved that most.
Last edited:


Site Moderator
Staff member
Any tips, or wisdom you can share with me as I begin my own journey into RC planes with my students?
Start with something easy like the Noob Tube.
Fast & easy to build, WHEN you crash, not so heart broken. Just make another one.

Last edited:


Start with something easy like the Noob Tube.
Fast & easy to build, WHEN you crash, not so heart broken. Just make another one.
Only issue for noob tube, is that is a missile, and has no dyhedral. If you search his other video's he does talk about adding some polyhedral to this build. Its called a noob tube and is easy building, but its by no means a noob friendly plane.