University of Virginia
Physics Department

Styrofoam Helicopters

A Physical Science Activity

Student Activity




  1. Groups will be assigned to a specific material from which to make the blades. If your group is assigned feathers, obtain 12 feathers. If your group is assigned styrofoam, obtain 3 styrofoam plates. If your group is assigned note cards, obtain three note cards.
  2. Obtain styrofoam bllas and other necessary materials.
  3. If your group is using feathers, skip to step 7.
  4. If your group is using note cards or styrofoam to make the blades, cut 12 blades into rectangular shapes with dimensions 2 cm x 7.5 cm each.
  5. Using the knife, cut slits in the styrofoam balls wide enough to slide the blades into tightly. Cut into the helicopter at approximately a 45-degree angle with the plastic knife. Make the cuts at even intervals in an end-to-end style near the top of the helicopter. Cut three slits in the first helicopter, four in the second and five in the third.
  6. Insert the note card blades and styrofoam blades into the slits.
  7. If your group is using feathers, insert three feathers in the first helicopter at approximately a 45-degrees angle. Insert four feathers into the second and five into the third in the same way.
  8. Tape two meter sticks together so that they measure two meters together. This is the height from which you will drop your helicopters.
  9. While one person holds the meter sticks, a second person drops the helicopter. Once the helicopter is dropped, another person measures the time it takes for the helicopter to reach the floor with a stopwatch. Time should be measured to the nearest tenth of a second.
  10. Repeat step nine three times for each helicopter and record results in the table provided.
  11. When all trials are completed and data is recorded, calculate the speed of each drop.  


Data Sheet

To print out the Data Sheet only, click here.
# of blades 3 4 5
Trial 1 time(s)      
Trial 2 time(s)      
Trial 3 time(s)      

Total time

Avg. time      
Distance (cm)      
Speed (cm/s)      

 Blade material_____________________

Height of drop (cm)_____________________


Average time = total time/ 3

Speed = distance/time

Acceleration = (final velocity - original velocity)/time

Speed is how fast something is going.

Velocity is how fast something is moving in a given direction.



  1. Did all of your helicopters reach the floor at the same time?

  2. Which helicopter reached the ground first? Why?

  3. Which helicopters had the lowest velocity? Why?

  4. Did the number of blades affect the velocity/speed and acceleration of your helicopters? If so, how?

  5. How could you have made your helicopter better/slower?