All Resources


  • 100 Years of Passenger Air Travel

    Immerse yourself in five illustrated scenes, each depicting an era of passenger flight, and explore the changes that have occurred in passenger air travel since the dawn of commercial aviation, in this interactive graphic timeline produced by WGBH and The Documentary Group. Navigate through the scenes, stopping to engage with informative hotspots and story graphics that detail the advances that have occurred across five thematic areas—aircraft design, passenger experience, safety innovations, social impact, and environmental issues. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Challenge of Flight

    Examine the forces that act on an airplane in flight, the motions a pilot controls, and the design process engineers use to develop airplanes that manage these flight conditions, in this interactive produced by WGBH and The Documentary Group. The first part of the interactive uses videos, still images, and diagrams to explain the four forces of flight (lift, thrust, drag, and weight) and the three motions an airplane experiences in flight (roll, pitch, and yaw). The second part explores the four primary steps of the design process and the tools today’s aerospace engineers use in their work. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 7-12
  • Engineer a Jetliner

    Experience the engineering design process as an aerospace engineer assigned to design and test an airplane, in this interactive produced by WGBH and The Documentary Group. Your challenge is to determine which wing and engine configuration is best suited to each of four missions (the defined needs or objectives for the airplane). The first three missions ask you to find airworthy, low-cost, and fuel-efficient designs. The fourth invites you to define your own objective. Consider a range of different wing and engine design solutions—each one rated for build cost, fuel burn, and weight—and choose a configuration to test. Then, depending on your results, refine the design and test again, or move on to the next mission. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Higher and Faster

    Explore the social and economic factors as well as the engineering innovations that have driven—and continue to drive—both higher and faster commercial flight, in this interactive produced by WGBH and The Documentary Group. The first part of the interactive focuses on high-altitude flight. Using diagrams, infographics, and still images, it describes the benefits of flying higher with respect to safety, comfort, and fuel efficiency. It also explains the technological breakthroughs, namely in cabin pressurization and jet propulsion, that have enabled higher flight. The second part focuses on faster flight and, in particular, the challenges in aerodynamics, propulsion, and materials that manufacturers face as they seek to deliver new generations of high-speed passenger airplanes capable of supersonic (and even hypersonic!) flight. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 7-12
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    Engineer Profile: Tony Castilleja

    Tony Castilleja, a mechanical engineer at The Boeing Company, describes the revolutionary design of the CST-100 Starliner Crew Space Transportation system, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. Castilleja was inspired to become an engineer and design the next-generation spacecraft by watching the Space Shuttle launch as a 12-year-old boy. Today, Castilleja works with mentor engineers who have experience on heritage space programs, including the Shuttle program. The CST-100 Starliner is autonomous, meaning it is designed to launch, dock, and return to Earth without any interaction of a human with the vehicle, and features wireless Internet and tablets, as well as a weldless design and LED “Sky Lighting” technology. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 6-12
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    Engineer Profile: Victoria Wilk

    Learn what drew Victoria Wilk, an engineer at The Boeing Company, to a career in aerospace engineering, and learn what airplane designers must account for when designing and testing aircraft, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. Engineers contribute to the world by making practical solutions for society’s needs. Wilk describes her path to engineering and reveals some of the challenges she faced in grasping difficult concepts along the way. After establishing that an airplane’s design is determined by an understanding of how many people it will fly and how far they need to go, Wilk describes the testing that airplanes undergo to ensure they are safe no matter where they fly around the world. She concludes by explaining why working with failure is important in engineering. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 6-12
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    Engineer Profile: Dylon Rockwell

    Dylon Rockwell, an engineer at The Boeing Company, explains airfoils on airplane wings and helicopter rotor blades and describes the V-22, a vehicle that can fly as an airplane or a helicopter, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. As a child, Rockwell was attracted to things that flew. With the positive influence of his uncle, a pilot, he grew up thinking that he could do anything. Rockwell worked on the V-22 program, which has revolutionized search-and-rescue operations to help save lives. He believes that you don’t have to be a genius to be an engineer—you just need the curiosity to figure out how things work. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 6-12
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    Engineer Profile: Tricia Hevers

    Tricia Hevers, an engineer at The Boeing Company, describes the significance of satellites, what it takes to launch them, and the missions that small satellites can perform, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. She describes her interest from a young age in aerospace engineering and her role model, female astronaut Eileen Collins. In her job, Hevers uses complex mathematics to ensure that the satellite is pointed in the right direction. She also helps facilitate communications on her team. Looking toward the future, she says that small satellites will do everything, from creating the next GPS constellation to performing satellite-to-satellite repair services. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 6-12
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    Engineer Profile: Myron Fletcher

    Myron Fletcher, an engineer at The Boeing Company, talks about the Space Launch System (SLS) program and the educational experience that propelled him into his career as a rocket scientist, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. The SLS is a rocket designed to take humans into deep-space exploration. Fletcher, who works in rocket propulsion and knows that a lot of thrust will be needed to get the SLS off the ground, explains his excitement about being involved in the program. He credits his education in Little Rock, Arkansas, in a school with a direct historical connection to the civil rights movement, for allowing him to dream big. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 6-12
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    Engineer Profile: Simon Bahr

    Simon Bahr, an engineer at The Boeing Company, explains lift, the force that keeps a plane in the air, and describes the safety testing that planes go through before they are allowed to fly, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. Bahr relates lift to the sensation you feel when you stick a hand out the window of a moving car and demonstrates how lift works using a paper airplane. Next, he details the exhaustive testing planes go through, including the “ultimate load test” of the wing, in which a wing is subjected to 1.5 times the force it will ever experience in flight to prove its strength. Bahr then describes the work at Boeing’s lightning lab, where engineers simulate lightning strikes and learn to safely channel their electrical energy through a plane. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Creating an Aircraft Industry

    Examine the early days of aviation and what led Bill Boeing to industrialize the Wright Brothers’ invention, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. One hundred years ago, air shows thrilled large crowds of people. Even though the wood, wire, and cloth airplanes were noisy and somewhat unsafe, they caught Boeing’s imagination. He embarked on building an airplane manufacturing business, filling military orders at first. When World War I ended, he began making planes to transport the mail. Through airmail transportation, Boeing set the groundwork for today’s domestic airline network. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Design Innovation for Jet-Powered Flight: The Swept Wing

    Discover the origins of the swept wing and podded engine design, two technologies that helped engineers harness the speed potential of jet engines, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. Today, most jetliners share a common design: wings that sweep back from the body of the plane, with engines mounted beneath them. This design dates back to the end of World War II, when Allied military forces discovered secret German research that had been meant to be destroyed. Swept wings delay the formation of shock waves at higher speeds, and podded engines suspended below the wings help bring wing vibration under control. Together, these technologies enabled stable flight at speeds twice as fast as those that propeller engines had previously generated. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Engineering the Jet Age

    Trace the emergence of the passenger jet from its military origins and learn about the obstacles and opportunities that Boeing’s president Bill Allen faced taking the company into the jet age, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. After World War II, Boeing relied on sales of the B-47 bomber to keep the company afloat. This plane, which flew nearly 600 miles per hour at 35,000 feet, inspired Allen to conceive of a future in which commercial airline passengers would fly in jets. A decade after the close of World War II, Boeing delivered the 707. Within a year, more travelers were crossing the Atlantic by air than by sea. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Air Travel for the Masses: The 747

    Learn about the origins of the Boeing 747, at the time the largest and most complex passenger aircraft ever built, and the engineer who built it, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. Responding to a challenge set by Juan Trippe, founder of Pan American World Airways, Boeing engineer Joe Sutter led a program to develop a passenger jet that would seat twice as many passengers as any other airplane at the time could carry. Sutter’s team designed a widebody plane that had two aisles instead of one. To accommodate a freight-loading door at the front of the plane, the cockpit was positioned above the nose, giving the 747 its characteristic hump. Developed in just 39 months, the 747 flew for the first time on February 9, 1969. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 6-12
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    The 21st Century Mission: The 787

    Discover how The Boeing Company’s decision to abandon one revolutionary airplane design led to another successful design, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. In 2000, as aerospace manufacturer Boeing considered its next major airplane design, it was fixed on the Sonic Cruiser, a passenger plane that flew near the speed of sound and whose design was unlike any ever seen before. But rising fuel costs and the events of September 11, 2001 prompted the company to revise its plans. Responding to its customers’ needs, Boeing would focus instead on building a plane that operated more economically. To accomplish its goal, Boeing used advanced composite materials, which are lightweight, strong, and durable. In 2009, the 787 Dreamliner—the culmination of Boeing’s efforts and innovation—took to the skies. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Infographic Histories of Passenger Air Travel

    These ten infographics, which are part of the interactive feature 100 Years of Passenger Air Travel, tell the stories of advances that have occurred over the century in aircraft design, passenger experience, safety innovations, social impact, and environmental issues. This gallery version is provided for teachers and students who want to view or download the individual stories outside of the context of the full interactive. Screen-reader-accessible versions are in the interactive feature. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 7-12

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