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KS3 Science: Thunderbirds (1965-66)

Can pupils launch their own rockets?

Main image of KS3 Science: Thunderbirds (1965-66)
Author Ryan Deneven-Lewis, Burlington Danes Academy
Topic Forces
Show full lesson spec

In this episode of the enduringly popular Thunderbirds we follow the adventures of International Rescue, a secret organisation using advanced technology to save people in danger.

I'm not sure you can justify using an entire episode of Thunderbirds to support learning in science, but you can certainly use a short clip of Thunderbird I and 2 being launched... can't you?

In this lesson the launch of Thunderbirds 1 and 2 is used to stimulate discussion about thrust and how rockets are launched into the air. Pupils are then encouraged to create their own models and do some launching of their own.

Lesson Objective

  • To understand that thrust is needed for a rocket to launch and to identify where forces are balanced and unbalanced.
  • To learn how an object reduces friction by a more streamlined shape.


Begin by watching the clip in which Thunderbird 1 and Thunderbird 2 are launched. Ask pupils to draw a basic diagram of the Thunderbird ships, labelling it with arrows, showing the forces acting on the spaceships (pupils could be provided with basic diagrams or stills).


Main Attraction

Not for the faint hearted this one! Pupils will be working in small groups to create a basic Thunderbird rocket, using plastic bottles and card. They should be encouraged to decorate their rockets (with stickers/paint/transfers etc.) to make own models. The class will need to be provided with a variety of different shaped bottles as well as materials to help make the rockets more streamlined - for example: fins and nose cones can be stuck to the top.

Take the Thunderbird rockets outside as a class in preparation for a demonstration (which will, ideally, be filmed). Fill each rocket with some water, and then, using a foot pump, the teacher should pump air in to each rocket: as the air pressure builds up, the water will be forced out, causing the necessary thrust to launch rockets in to air.

It is important that teachers launch the rockets and that pupils stand well back. A two-litre bottle filled with about a quarter of water will travel about 20 metres in the air!

For extra effect, the Thunderbirds launch music and/or some sort of countdown can played as the rockets launch.


End Credits

Watch the video of the rockets launch in class and lead a discussion on how the shape of the various models affected their trajectory. Then, using arbitrary or exact measurements from the videos, ask pupils to calculate the speed, distance or time of rocket launches or link to a different area of the curriculum such as gravitational potential energy or force, mass and acceleration.


External Links

Video Clips
Complete episode: 'Trapped in the Sky' (51:03)
Downloadable Teaching Resources

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Thunderbirds (1965-66)Thunderbirds (1965-66)

Read more about this programme

See also