How do I build an easy balsa wood aeroplane that flies?

Written by paul bragulla
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How do I build an easy balsa wood aeroplane that flies?
This model uses the same aerodynamic principles as full-sized sailplanes. (glider aerobatic image by Igor Zhorov from Fotolia.com)

Balsa wood is in many ways an ideal material for the construction of flying model aeroplanes, whether simple, stick-built beginner types or elaborate replicas of real aircraft. The material is extremely light, but also has a high strength to weight ratio. Balsa wood is also relatively inexpensive and quite easy to work into almost any shape a hobbyist might desire. This basic balsa wood aeroplane can be constructed in an hour or two and, with a little adjustment, prove itself to be an able glider. There are few things as fulfilling as watching something you have made with your own hands sail on the evening's breezes.

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Things you need

  • 25 by 7.5 cm (10 by 3 inch) sheet of thin balsa (grain going the long way)
  • 3 mm by 6 mm by 25 cm (1/8 by 1/4 by 10 inch) strip of balsa
  • 3 mm by 6 mm by 25 cm (1/8 by 1/16 by 10 inch) strip of balsa
  • 5 by 10 cm (2 by 4 inch) sheet of thin balsa
  • 5 by 5 cm (2 by 2 inch) sheet of thin balsa
  • 35 cm (14 inches) of 1.5 by 1.5 mm (1/16 by 1/16 inch) balsa
  • Model glue (for wooden models)
  • Modelling clay

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Start by gluing the large sheet of balsa (the wing) to the 3 mm by 6 mm by 25 cm (1/8 by 1/4 by 10 inch) strip (the fuselage) 1/3 of the way back from one end of the fuselage with the long-axes of the two pieces perpendicular to each other. Make sure that an equal amount of wing extends to either side of the strip. The end of the fuselage closest to the wing is the front of the model aeroplane.

  2. 2

    Glue the 3 mm by 1.5 mm (1/8 by 1/16 inch) strip to the top of the leading edge of the wing with the 3 mm (1/8 inch) side down. This will help to stiffen the wing so that it won't break if it has to endure a hard landing. Glue 7.5 cm (3 inch) strips of the 1.5 by 1.5 mm (1/16 by 1/16 inch) balsa wood to the inside corners where the wing meets the fuselage. This will brace the wing and attach it more firmly to the fuselage.

  3. 3

    Glue the 5 by 10 cm (2 by 4 inch) sheet of balsa to the top of the end of the fuselage with its long-axis parallel to that of the wings. Use 5 cm (2 inch) strips to secure it to the fuselage just as you did with the wing. This is the horizontal stabiliser of the model plane and will keep the plane flying level.

  4. 4

    Glue an edge of the 5 by 5 cm (2 by 2 inch) sheet of balsa to the top centre of the horizontal stabiliser so that it points edge-on toward the front of the plane. Glue two more 5 cm (2 inch) pieces of 1.5 by 1.5 mm (1/16 by 1/16 inch) balsa to brace it in place atop the horizontal stabiliser.

  5. 5

    Attach a ball of modelling clay about the size of a marble to the front of the plane to balance it for flight.

  6. 6

    To fly your plane, stand in a place without too many things that the plane could run into and break (a lawn is a good spot) and wait for a moment without a lot of wind. Launch the plane gently forwards with your hand. If the plane dives down when released, remove clay from the ball on the nose. If the plane veers sharply upwards then add clay.

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