In 1871, Alphonse Penaud sat in his Paris home dreaming of inventing a flying machine. He worked methodically, experimenting with stability and propulsion, until he perfected the first rubber-band powered aeroplane. Avionics has changed since Penaud first dreamed of flying, but that lightweight balsa-wood aeroplane propelled by the tension of a rubber band is still a favourite toy for children and adults. Children learn about the fundamentals of flight, basic aerodynamics and the energy in tension when building their first rubber-band powered aeroplane.
Fit one end of the 1/8-inch by 3/8-inch by 12-inch strip of balsa wood, which will be the fuselage, into the cup of the propeller. This will form a fairly snug fit, but it may fit more easily if you first gently press the corners of the balsa wood strip against a hard surface to soften the edges.
Slip one end of the rubber band on the hook on the propeller.
Straighten one end of the paper clip and snip off a 1-inch piece of the paper clip with the cutter part of the needle-nosed pliers.
Bend one end of the 1-inch piece of the paper clip into a small loop with the needle-nosed pliers to hide the sharp end.
Lay the fuselage on a table and stretch the rubber band until just taut. Do not overstretch the rubber band or leave it too loose. Place the 1-inch piece of the paper clip between the sides of the rubber band with the sharp end facing the fuselage and the rounded end facing out. Slide it away from the propeller, taking care to not overstretch the rubber band.
Push the 1-inch piece of the paper clip into the fuselage. If the paper clip piece isn't straight, it will push out the side of the fuselage.
Remove the rubber band from the paper clip piece. Secure the paper clip piece with a drop or two of hot glue.
Bend the paper clip piece away from the propeller and strengthen it with a drop or two of hot glue.
Form a rectangle with the 2 1/16-inch by 1/8-inch by 4-inch strip of balsa wood and 2 1/16-inch by 1/8-inch by 2-inch strip of balsa wood. Secure the corners with hot glue.
Cut a 5-inch by 3-inch piece of tissue paper. Glue the tissue paper to the rectangle frame using the glue stick. Trim the tissue paper close to the frame; this forms the stabiliser.
Build a rectangular frame with 3 1/16-inch by 1/8-inch by 2-inch strip of balsa wood, leaving one side open. Secure the corners with hot glue.
Cut a 3-inch square piece of tissue paper. Glue the tissue paper to the frame using the glue stick. Trim the tissue paper close to the frame. This is the rudder.
Stand up the rudder in the centre of the stabiliser with the open side facing the stabiliser. Attach with hot glue where the balsa strips meet, ensuring the rudder is perpendicular to the stabiliser. Do not glue the tissue paper.
Form a rectangle with the 2 1/16-inch by 1/8-inch by 12-inch strip of balsa wood and 2 1/16-inch by 1/8-inch by 2 2/8-inch strip of balsa wood. Secure the corners with hot glue.
Cut a 13-inch by 4-inch piece of tissue paper. Glue the tissue paper to the rectangle frame using the glue stick. Trim the tissue paper close to the frame. This is the wing section.
Crack, but do not break, the balsa wood in the middle of the wing, forming a wide "V." First dent the wood with your fingernail so the strip cracks in the right place. Put the balsa-wood side in on the outside of the "V" so the crack is on the balsa wood side, not the tissue-paper side.
Lay the wing section upside-down so that the point is on top. Move the ends of the wing until the point is about 3 inches above the table. Glue a 1/16-inch by 1/8-inch by 4-inch strip of balsa wood to the peaks of the wing section. A little bit of the strip will hang over on each side. Turn over the wing section so the peak is now facing down.
Attach two toothpicks to each end of the strip that hangs over the wing section with hot glue. The toothpicks should fit tightly to the wing and point straight down below the bottom of the "V."
Hold the fuselage so the rubber band is on the bottom and the propeller is at the front. Attach the tail section to the back of the fuselage with hot glue, lining up the back edge of the tail section with the back edge of the fuselage. The rudder should stand straight up. Glue only the balsa wood and not the tissue paper.
Attach the wing section to the fuselage by making the toothpicks straddle the fuselage with the front-end toothpicks about 3 inches from the front of the plane. Tape the toothpicks to the fuselage using electrical tape. Angle the back toothpick about ¼-inch lower than the front.
Spin the propeller to twist and tighten the rubber band, and the plane is ready to fly.
Things you need
- 1/8-inch by 3/8-inch by 12-inch strip of balsa wood
- Nose hook propeller, 6-inch diameter
- Rubber band, 1/8-inch wide, 6-inch diameter
- Small paper clip
- Needle-nosed pliers/cutters
- Glue gun
- Hot glue sticks
- 3 1/16-inch by 1/8-inch by 4-inch strips of balsa wood
- 5 1/16-inch by 1/8-inch by 2-inch strips of balsa wood
- Tissue paper, assorted colours
- Glue stick
- 2 1/16-inch by 1/8-inch by 12-inch strips of balsa wood
- 2 1/16-inch by 1/8-inch by 2 7/8-inch strips of balsa wood
- 4 toothpicks
- Electrical tape