Students at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville built and tested parachutes Wednesday to simulate the concept of drag, or air resistance, that planes encounter in flight Credit: Dan Schere

On Wednesday morning at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville, ninth-graders in teacher Andrew Brown’s third-period class bent over tables as they fashioned parachutes out of tissue paper and plastic.

The students made paper pyramids to represent a parachute’s weight, then constructed the top of the parachute. They used string to attach the parachute to the “weight.”

In groups of three or four, students tested the parachutes by dropping them to see if the parachute floated gradually to the ground or fell instantly. The test was meant to simulate the real experience of an aircraft landing. The students, who are taking a class on the science behind aviation, were testing how well the parachutes, could resist drag, which is a type of air friction that planes encounter while in flight.

“We’re trying to make sure the parachute lands safely,” Linu Parajuli said. “It’s really trial and error.”

Magruder is one of two high schools in Maryland and among 81 across the country to implement an aviation class for ninth-graders this school year. The Frederick-based nonprofit Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) designed the STEM curriculum, as a career readiness course designed to train future pilots and commercial drone operators. The program is being pilot-tested in ninth-grade classes this year, and will eventually expand to encompass all four years of high school.

“This curriculum is opening the door to aviation careers for students in Maryland and nationwide. With two different pathways—one focusing on pilots and the other on drone operations—the curriculum gives students the chance to explore important concepts in science and math in ways that also prepare them for great careers,” AOPA Vice President Elizabeth Tennyson wrote in a press release.


Brown, who teaches Technology Education at Magruder, explained that the students have been learning basic principles of aviation and physics during the first few weeks of the school year. The parachute activity is intended to simulate the experience of an aircraft encountering friction in the air during takeoff and landing.

Students typically spend a few days on an experiment or project, perfecting it toward the end of the week, he said. The two classes he teaches are a mix of students who are interested in becoming pilots and others who are looking at other careers in the industry.


“Some students know what they want to do right now, whether it be fly for the military, fly commercial and those types of things. There’s also careers that don’t concern being a pilot, like being a traffic like air traffic control and flight support,” he said.

Parajuli said she has enjoyed the class so far, and activities have included making rockets.

Aaron Webb, who was working with two other students to perfect his group’s parachute, said the students hadn’t quite figured out how to overcome the drag of the paperweight yet.


“Right now my group is still trying to land it. We haven’t been successful so far. I think we need to revise how we make the parachute,” said Webb, who said he plans to become an airline pilot.

Dan Schere can be reached at

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