Right on Time with Flight Vectors

Source: Wikimedia

Type: Investigation

Theme: Physics

Grades: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Learning Target: Students will study vectors through the analysis of wind barbs on weather maps, as they develop a flight plan from Renton to Spokane, Washington.


This project will be completed in groups of three.

Wind map with tempsYou and two friends will be flying a Cessna 172 from Renton to Spokane, Washington. Your grandma will be picking you up at 5 pm. She expects you to be on time and so does the control tower operator! What is your ETD (estimated time of departure)?

Keep in mind cruising speed for your small aircraft is 120 knots. Renton airport expects a flight plan which includes a minimum of four waypoints for your flight. Even though it's a direct flight, waypoints should be over cities or small towns (though you won't be stopping). Keep in mind your fuel tank will limit you to 250 nautical miles. No crash landings!

You will run into some wind. Take a look at the forecast wind map for the day of your flight (looks like a cold arctic blast is coming too!). How will you adjust your headings because of the wind you will encounter? For each of the four waypoint in between Renton and Spokane (remember to add Renton and Spokane to your map), you will need to determine your heading (degrees from true north). Use this tool to help you visual wind vectors in order to determine your actual forward velocity and heading. 

While you're on your flight, please keep a flight log. 



  1. Departure time
  2. Map with waypoints (include heading from north, and estimated time to next waypoint)
  3. Table of calculations. Each geometry student (and higher) must show the work for one waypoint.
  4. Flight log narrative
  5. Obtain Peer Review. Revise.


Exit Ticket
CCSS Math Practice
  • I can make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • I can reason abstractly and quantitatively.
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
  • Patterns
  • Systems and System Models


Example PowerPoint