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FT STEM – Building Airplanes

Flite Test has been showing how to build inexpensive, battery powered remote control model aircraft out of foam board for years. Their YouTube channel has half a million subscribers.

Flite Test has created FT STEM. The K thru 12 curriculum teaches science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) principles through hands-on aircraft activities that address national standards for each grade level.

Good news! Student engagement will not be a problem.

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FT STEM Introductory Video

This video introduces FT STEM. It meets more than 20 national standards and does not require you to be any sort of expert.

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Students Create Their Own Aircraft

Claira, an 8th grade student, came up with the idea of turning the MESArc MF-35 Lightning model aircraft design into a workable delta style wing. Her goal was to make it a more reasonable build with less servos and electronics to have to deal with.

This post shows how Claira went from design to an initial prototype to the final aircraft design.

The aircraft was built out of 3 sheets of 3/16" foam board. The free plans can be downloaded from this page.

Claira's First Flight

This video shows the first flight of the final version of the MF-35 Thunder, designed and built by Claira, an 8th grade student. And it shows some of the steps she took to get there.

Hard to believe that the aircraft is made mostly foam board, hot glue and some paint. Claira was the first female student to create a MESArc Fighter Design aircraft.

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DIY Toothless

This video from MESArc shows Megan and Susannah trying to tame the Toothless Dragon! This video shows that you learn from failure and the value of not accepting no as an answer.

A great example of getting everyone – not just the guys – involved in STEM.

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STEM Exemplars

Here you will find lessons, projects and activities created by FT STEM students and teachers. The articles can be filtered by grade level and type.

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Flite Test STEM Curriculum

The FT STEM curriculum has modules for all grade levels, K thru 12, providing real-world learning opportunities that expose students to careers in science and technology, and emphasizing critical 21st-century skills, such as communication and teamwork.

Here are some example modules and projects.

Flite Fest - Kids (of all ages) and their airplanes

This video from Flite Fest – an annual Flite Test meetup – shows kids, of all ages, having fun and learning new things, creating and building airplanes of all shapes and sizes.

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MESArc stands for Math, Engineering, Science, and Achievement Remote Control. Evolving over the years, the MESArc program has become a proven STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) outlet for middle and high school students.

They helped develop FT STEM and show what can be done with the program, engaging students that are more interesting in creating than programming.

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The FT Safety 5

Safety is an integral part of the FT STEM program.

The goals of this example safety module include

  • creation of a 5-rule safety program to be used during all Flite Test units, and
  • understanding the use of safety by learning how to implement the 5-rule safety program through practice situations.

Airplanes vs. Robots

Many STEM programs revolve around robots. While robotics is becoming an important 21st century skill, spending hours in front of a keyboard debugging control programs or working with expensive equipment you can never take home has its limitations. When done, all you have to show for it is some lines of code and maybe a picture or a video.

Airplanes like the ones featured here can be built in a few hours using foam board and hot glue. While the motor, battery and electronics are relatively expensive, they can be easily moved from one aircraft to the next. As Claira's video shows, this allows the student to keep the bulk their creation as a memento of all their hard work. And, as the Flite Fest video shows, airplane creation and decoration allows for a lot of individual creativity. Even if a student is not interested in the technology of airplanes, there are still a number of ways in which they can be engaged.

With similar start up costs, implementing STEM using model aircraft makes a compelling option.


According to the FT STEM site, the initial start up cost for FT STEM is similar to a robotics program at approximately $100 per student.

However that initial cost includes electronics that can be easily re-used by the next group of students. So, costs for follow on student groups will be mostly "consumable" items such as airplane kits, raw foam material and hot glue – on the order of $15 per student.

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