How Things Fly

How does an airplane stay aloft? How can something as insubstantial as air support all that weight? Why do you become "weightless" in space? How can you propel yourself there, with no air to push against? These and many other questions are answered in How Things Fly, a gallery devoted to explaining the basic principles that allow aircraft and spacecraft to fly.

The emphasis here is "hands-on." Dozens of exhibits invite you to push, pull, press, lift, slide, handle, touch, twist, turn, spin, bend, and balance. Here you can discover for yourself answers to things you've always wondered about flight. You can explore the nature of gravity and air; how wings work; supersonic flight; aircraft and rocket propulsion; flying in space; and more.


How Things Fly Exhibition

Forces of Flight
The How Things Fly exhibition is a hands-on interactive experience that teaches visitors about the basic principles of flight. Try the Forces of Flight activity to learn more about how things fly in the air and in space.

How Thing Fly Explainer Assists Visitors with Gyro Chair Interactive

Hands-On Interactives
Climb into the cockpit of a Cessna 150, a small airplane in which many pilots learn to fly, and take the controls. Hands-on exhibits like this one help you explore the science behind flight, such as air pressure and gravity; drag; thrust; lift; supersonic flight; control in Earth's atmosphere and space; and structures and materials.

How Things Fly Explainer Demonstrates Bernoulli's Principle

Live Demonstrations
Explainers bring the science of flight alive daily in the How Things Fly gallery, with fun and engaging experiments and audience participation. Explore the forces that affect aircraft in Earth's atmosphere; find out what went into building the first airplane; test fly a paper airplane and learn about aircraft stability; and discover what's going on at the International Space Station.

How Things Fly Exhibition - Boeing 757 Fuselage

Boeing 757 Fuselage
This cabin section, taken from just behind the wing, is from a Boeing 757 jetliner used for testing. The seats, wall panels, and overhead bins were added for this display. Except for the wooden floorboards (normally made of aluminum) this fuselage is built the same as a flyable 757.

Fuselage and shipment courtesy of The Boeing Company
Interior refurbishment courtesy of United Airlines
Renovation courtesy of William T. Klear, Jerry Baxley, Jerry Edsall, Steve Graffigna, Pete Lopez, Pete Ma, Bob Rowan, Doug Springstead

How Things Fly Exhibition

Blended Wing Body (1/20 Scale)
The Blended Wing Body (BWB) was designed by NASA and Boeing as a large transport aircraft. The model on display in the How Things Fly exhibition was remotely flown and tested in a wind tunnel at NASA's Langley Research Center to study the stability and flight control characteristics of the BWB design. The BWB has a hybrid shape that resembles a flying wing but incorporates features of a conventional aircraft. Gone are the tube-shaped fuselage and the tail section. The design merges integrated engines, efficient high-lift wings, and a wide airfoil-shaped body, so the entire aircraft generates lift and minimizes drag. Its flight control surfaces, called elevons, span the trailing edges of the wings, while rudders are located in winglets on each wing tip. A full-scale version would be shorter and slightly wider than a Boeing 747. Because of its efficient design and wider body, the BWB could carry more cargo than most standard aircraft, produce less engine noise, and consume 30 percent less fuel, while cruising at high subsonic speeds on flights of up to 8,055 miles (12,963 kilometers).