List of materials here

Seeing one of these planes soar gracefully overhead re-defines your perception of the three-dimentional space above. It even re-defines us: we are creatures living at the bottom of an ocean of air.

All my 6th grade students-- over 250 of them every year-- make this project from scratch. Thin strips of balsa wood are challenging to work with, but when the kids put their finished creations to flight there are no words to describe the joy.

Honestly, for all the work finding all the materials, it makes the most sense as a group project. If you are just making one, it makes more sense to buy a simple kit from your local hobby strore.

I finally made a video that my classes use to make the plane. You can see it here (the old Google video is now blocked, this is the new YouTube equivalent) The list of materials is here . The pattern for building the wings, stabilizer and tail is here.

Note that every year I experiment to find a simpler design that 100% of students can get to fly. This design is at the limits of what 6th graders can be expected to build. I'm now working with a thin foam instead of tissue paper design.

I am experimenting with a crude kind of "washout"--having less wing tilt at the wing-tips than at the root--by gluing paper that is curved down near the middle of the wing. Washout can help prevent a problem called "tip stall" which causes the plane to spiral dive.

The latest development to this project is making propellers from ordinary paper clips and the plastic from 2-liter bottles.

My friend Darcy Whyte, a software engineer who lives in Canada, applied the same kind of logic to designing a simple model plane for beginners. His design is called the Squrrel, and I'm considering adopting it--or some variation of it--for my classes. His site where you can print out the plans is here . He also put together a terrific educational page of history, interesting facts and links to articles

Darcy visited me on the way to a software conference and of course showed my son how to construct a squirrel plane.

Another site by Bill Kuhl has great videos about model planes that explain things like what is aspect ratio, or what happens if you fly a plane with no vertical fin? Also a well-researched selection of links. And on the bottom half of the page is a well-researched selection of good links for beginning model builders.


For illustrated instructions to make rubber powered airplanes click here or on the picture.


For explanations, activities and cool links related to planes and flying click here or on the picture.


Back to the science toymaker home page.

I'd like to know how this project goes for you. I'm happy to answer questions about it. Feedback from you is an important way for me to know what works and what needs clarification.
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