Picture of How to build pneumatic costume wings
Hallowe'en is a passion of mine and for this time around I wanted something really neat, so I started thinking about trying to make some wings.

Much Googling later and I came to the conclusion there wasn't much out there. There were a few pictures of simple single-hinge wings but those weren't very impressive to me, and the professional version was well over a thousand dollars and not what I was trying for anyway.

Since there weren't many how-tos out there, and since nobody had really done what I wanted to do in an affordable (mostly) way, I tried to take some pictures and help others who want to build wings that open and close without manually pulling strings.

Steampunk Hawkman is the result. This is a tutorial on building his wings (V1.0).
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Step 1: Planning

Picture of Planning
I spent a lot of time googling and attempting to find people who had done it before, and most were simple single-hinge angel-wing style costume wings. That's okay, but it means you're limited in size since they don't fold down very well and are limited to your own height. A proper bird or bat-style folding ought to be better.

They're fairly similar, although skeletally they're a bit different, so I chose bird, just because there's more of them out there.

This diagram shows a greatly simplified way of creating the parallelogram that does the work. When the base of the wing is attached at the ends, moving any of the members should cause the wing to fold and unfold.

Originally, due to all the manual wings I saw, I thought only about pulling or pushing on the attached ends, but once built, it became clear that any change to one of the angles affects all the rest. That opens up a lot of ways to cause the folding motion.
AndyW23 months ago

hi there thanks for the info yes i do have speed limiters on the piston the paintball shop set the regulator up so it can go from 75 psi to 300 psi range we i currently have it set at 115 psi with the d.o.t approved 300 psi lines the regulator is fully adjustable thank you again you have been very help full here is a pic of the regulator

regulator 003.jpgregulator 004.jpg
AndyW23 months ago

hi there i have another question your using a co2 tank which is charged at or around 3000 psi which when deployed is coming out around 800 psi can you tell me what you regulated down to on average as in 20,30 40 psi or more ty again

tbruyere (author)  AndyW23 months ago
It's really dependent on the ratings of the gear, it will all be rated. 100 is probably safe if you've bought the same stuff as me. Be careful and check ratings, you can really fling stuff with these pistons. GET SPEED LIMITERS.
tbruyere (author)  AndyW23 months ago

I used one of these (big plus: portable air tools!), I understand that Kobalt makes one too, and it may be available for cheaper. I think I've heard Harbor Freight in the states and Princess Auto in Canada for places to start looking.

acPac J-6901-91 Portable Compressed CO2 Pneumatic Regulator Kit

AndyW2 tbruyere3 months ago
hi thank you for your info the reason i was asking is i am having an inline paintball gun regulator modified by my local paintball company and they were asking what i wanted the regulator set at or modified to as in lowest psi 30 psi to highest psi 120 so that i have a range to work with thanks for your time again
AndyW23 months ago

hi there can you tell me what size of aluminum tubing you use as in half inch by half inch square or thank you again

tbruyere (author)  AndyW23 months ago
I've used a bunch, half inch up to one inch, and the shorter pieces U instead of square tube. I even had some smaller. It all works strong enough, but it depends on if you want to run around outside with a ten+ foot wide sail on your back or you want to stand still in a convention... :)

Half inch was a decent strength, and I did walk fast across a dance floor with it open, no problem.

The reason for different sizes and U-shape was I wanted it to fold down super tightly, strength was never a problem.
AndyW23 months ago

hi again im having trouble understanding the solenoid hooked up to switch hooked up to battery is there any way you could post or show a picture of the 3 pcs hooked up .the solenoid i bought is only air driven but kinda on the big side so thinking of returning and getting the solenoid and switch you have ty for your time , any pics or explanation as to how the hook up would be greatly appreciated

pneumatic 048.jpg
tbruyere (author)  AndyW23 months ago
That's not electrically driven, that's a manual switch, so you just hook the air to it, no battery required. The electrically operated ones will have one or two sets of wires coming out. I used a manual switch for my first attempt, it was much easier to build the first version that way, less to worry about.
AndyW23 months ago

hi there can you tell me what type of batterie you are using to power the solenoid is it really small or what brand where do you have it mounted or hidden or rig

tbruyere (author)  AndyW23 months ago
The first battery I used was a 12v motorcycle battery size. 7Ah. That's because I wanted a large amount of lights though. The actual solenoids don't draw that much energy because they are activated for only momentary switches. You can now get 12v batteries much cheaper. I'm experimenting with the rechargeables they use for RC cars and planes now, much smaller, but I believe just about any 12v lithium rechargable that can handle a 2A draw will do the trick.
rbruey7 months ago

Wonderful contraption! Are you still using V2.0?

I want to consider these wings as an option...My teenager and I are designing/building a Maleficent Costume. I realize the movie wings were computer generated. But I wonder... I believe I can cover your wings with nylon and fabric. Would you happen to know the load bearing of your wings? How much do the wings weigh? I am still favoring rope pulleys, although my scrawny-arm teen may not have enough strength to man them. Have you found a back board lighter weight than the plywood or is that the most stable?

Any thought on this project?

tbruyere (author)  rbruey7 months ago
Due to family needs, I have put off a new set until this summer, but the short answer is that getting the wings up might take some strength but ought to be doable. The CO2 powered version could open the wings really fast and hard, so I didn't find a lot of problems with a cloth wing load. I still think a 1/4" plywood backing is about as light as we can do, unless I find an aluminum plate.
tbruyere (author) 1 year ago
Sorry I haven't been keeping it up to date, I will try to take a pic of how the 2.0 works, The next version I did was rocket-pods, and then I did some air-bellows pistons, but I've been too busy to to a lot of documentation. My apologies.
jmarinchak1 year ago
Wow! It would be cool to see your updates! Do you have pictures or updated plans that show the changes you made in version 2.0?
tbruyere (author) 1 year ago
Indeed, version two used pusher pipes, so that the pistons didn't have to move, which made the whole thing much more stable and less prone to leaks.. I've also re-used the idea to make rocket tubes that go from vertical to horizontal on the push of a button.
jmarinchak1 year ago
Great job on your wings! Did you ever get your version 2.0 completed?

Rob3113 years ago
where did you get the pistons?
tbruyere (author)  Rob3113 years ago
I'm in Canada, so I went to a place called Princess Auto.

Here's a link to the 4-inch version of what I have:

The keywords to look for are pneumatic cylinder. I've heard good things about Fry's if you're in the US, but I can't speak from experience.
sonofstone3 years ago
that's just amazing, i right now am really sad about not having enough money to build something similar and yet a little different
These are fabulous. I love the way they open and close slowly. It is so much nicer than ones that just spring open. I assume that is from what you call the 'speed limiter' but what is that exactly?

Each year I make costumes for our local Wearable Art Show. My sons have modeled since third grade. They are seniors this year and I have been wanting to make pneumatic wings for their grand finale. Would you mind sharing more details on the electronic circuit for your v 2.0 set? I think I have most of the components but any advice would be great and would save me tinkering time.
My e-mail is if you'd be willing to share any other advice.

Thanks and again, very, very nice work!
tbruyere (author)  jackiekeizer4 years ago
I have included in this instructable pics of all the pneumatic bits. The speed limiter is just a threaded quick-attach piece with a screw built into it. You tighten it down to make the airflow slower or loosen for faster. Pneumatics are incredibly quick without limiting. If you do find a place that sells this stuff, they'll certainly sell those along with the other stuff.

For art, I would definitely go with a solenoid switch, I got one (5-way 2-position) for 35 dollars, it takes standard 12V, and if you get a 2-position, it will only need a momentary switch to activate, so there's no constant power drain. The circuit is as simple as it gets once you have the switch.

The Version 1.0 wings suffer as a halloween costume because the moving air tubes will cause leakage and tend to get caught on stuff. This isn't a problem for a fashion show, though, just for moving through crows. Once you go with the solenoid switch though, you can make everything self contained so none of the workings are visible, and hide the switch in your hand, which is REALLY nice, nobody sees you tap it.

Let me know what you're having trouble with specifically and I'd be glad to help.
So, I'm probably going to sound like a complete idiot here, but I do have a few more questions. (Thanks for responding before) I have the solenoid switch and was asking a friend for help in setting up the circuit when he started asking questions I hadn't thought of. What kind of a switch did you use with yours? I was figuring simple switch - voltage - solenoid setup, but he was thinking that relays are needed to stop the action when the extent of the piston is reached and that the switch needs to be a two position switch, like a rocker or toggle.

Does the solenoid work so that a burst of electricity changes the position, and each time the switch is hit the position changes again? Or does the polarity reverse so that you do need a two position switch so toggle forward and the piston goes up, toggle back and it goes down? And, lastly, since there is no neutral on the two position solenoid, is CO2 always being depleted? Is it continually pushing up with the excess being exhausted? I didn't think so but I couldn't convince my friend, and when I thought about it I wasn't sure.

At this point I probably sound like I have no business attempting this, but help...I'm in too deep to quit right now! I'm on an island so it is a bit hard to get things. I ordered everything I thought I needed but got a couple of the wrong fittings. Otherwise I'd hook up the air to the solenoid to the pistons and see what happens. The solenoid has a manual override so I could get an idea of how exactly it operates.

I'd really appreciate knowing exactly what the circuit is that I need to operate the solenoid. I'm thinking I might be better off going with the manual valve but that would mean ordering new parts. If I can make this work with the solenoid it would be nice as the wearable art show is coming up pretty fast. I have the wings made...they just aren't moving yet!
tbruyere (author)  jackiekeizer4 years ago
This depends on the switch you have obtained. If you have a 3-position, then you have a neutral position where there is no constant pressure. 2-position means that you are alway pushing the wings up or down, there's no neutral.

NOW, to be clear, there's nothing wrong with the 2-position, as long as you're not leaking.

Once the piston is full of CO2, there's nothing further happening in terms of exhaust, so yes, it's 'on', but it's not exhausting co2 so you aren't actually using air, except for whatever leakage is in the system.

My solenoid was a 5-way, 2-position.

(5 way is 1 in, 2 out, 2 exhaust, and 2-position for a solenoid generally means 2 electromagnets)

For the 5-2 switch, you need a 2-way rocker (momentary) as once you click it, the switch moves into the position you are clicking and stays there, This is helpful, since you aren't using a lot of power at all.

The piston will stop when it's full, and the system will be at equilibrium. When you switch it back, at that point the air in the piston is pushed back by the air in the second half of the system, and out the exhaust.

SO this all depends on the switch you have, can you post the exact type?
I have a 5-2 switch. After posting last night I thought about it and I do understand the solenoid. For some reason he was thinking either that it would be venting all the time or that it is going to push the rig apart if I don't stop the airflow. 3 position might have been better for me, but I'll try to keep the leaks to a minimum and I have great regulators and the flow control. They will only be on stage for 4 performances and a rehearsal so they won't be opening and closing that much. I will disconnect the gas cylinder between shows which will also make sure no one else comes by and messes with it.

The 2-way rocker is just a simple switch, right? Basically hooked up battery to switch to solenoid and complete the circuit? My friend is an electronics guy who puts in car stereos, auto starts, etc for a living. I went to him to see what kind of switch, or to buy one from him, but he thought I needed a much more complicated system and was pretty apprehensive about the whole idea. NAPA has lots of switches, rockers included. Would one from there work? I'm pretty limited in town on components.

Thanks so much for your help with this. I'll be sure you get credit!
tbruyere (author)  jackiekeizer4 years ago
The 5-2 should have 2 sets of wires, one for each electromagnet. You can either wire up a momentary to EACH side, or get a momentary that goes left and right so you can wire up the single switch and get open/close on it.

Either way should work fine. I used a pair of momentary switches because I found that switch first to buy and wire in the time I had. You do want momentaries though, no point in burning juice holding them open with a solenoid.

In a pinch, use regular switches, but remember to flick them on and off again for usage. It's a bit of a hack, but really just a training issue.

Leaks are always an issue. we worked out a lot of that in V2.0 with a really nice articulation system. I did find that silicone on the tube before pushing it into the fitting, and then siliconing the entire area worked, but take care to let it cure properly.

I assume you know how to test with dish-soap and a brush? I found that even plumbing tape wasn't as good as I hoped, so my mechanic buddy and I siliconed the fitting threads as well.

Do remove the canisters between uses, but I did find that my 9oz canister was enough for 88 open-closes, while testing with the V1.0 rig. Real usage was about half that, due to the fact that I didn't have good leak sealing then, and the movement of the tubes.
Thanks. I have a Mettle Air 4V210-08 solenoid. It does not have two sets of wires though. there is just the +, - , ground. Is it possible that it is reversible? Could it use reverse polarity so that rocker up opens, and rocker back sends the opposite voltage and closes it? Otherwise, I'm not sure what to do.

I have found a lot of schematics showing the air workings, but really nothing on wiring except to say there is a +, -, and ground!
tbruyere (author)  jackiekeizer4 years ago
Okay, the only thing I can think of for that thing is that it's got a default 'on' or default 'off' and you hit a switch to alter that.

That's workable, although it will drain more power than the dual solenoid type.

I'm assuming you're using 24v? The spec seems to say it needs that. I can't find a spec sheet that describes the default and action states.

So then I would try to set it up with a momentary so that when in default mode it's powering closed. Then it should open and stay open only as long as you are holding the momentary switch, and close as soon as you let go.

Sometimes these things won't click without actual pressure in the system (mine wouldn't), so you'd have to test it live.
Well, I finally got everything working! Thank you so much for all your help. One I made with bike pumps for pistons and venetian blinds for feathers. that one worked well. The other has a double acting piston that proved a bit small to lift the plywood feathers very well. Pretty much everything that could go wrong with that set did, but fortunately I was able to fix it all.

the Wearable Art show was this weekend. There are shows on Thur, Fri, and Sat nights with a matinee on Saturday. I filmed the matinee if you want to see how they turned out. I'm really happy I got them done, but I'm also really glad its over! Thanks again.
The wings look great. I built a set a few years back for a Jeepers Creepers costume. I had access to an escape bottle from work (2200 psi) that I regulated down and put through a single cylinder on my back. The cylinder only had a 6 inch throw so I used a double pully on it to give it the extra pull for the cables. It was all mounted on a metal frame strapped to my back.

The solenoid is a good idea. I didn't have one so I used two valves. One valve would pressurize the system. Once shut off, the second valve was opened to release the pressure and the wings reset. It was only a single action cylinder. The control still fit in my hand through and allowed for seamless movement of the wings.

At tip, if you want totally silent wings when the pressure releases, put a short piece of tube on the exhalation port and sew up a piece of cotton material layered 3 times to fit as a boot over the end. Make the cotton boot about 3 inches long and just tape it onto the tubing. It works like a charm as a silencer so no more hissing as the wings go down.

Here is a picture of the set I built. You can see the single cylinder in the center. Hopefully it comes through.
ClayChip4 years ago
These are awesome. I'd love to see a video of them in action.
tbruyere (author)  ClayChip4 years ago

Just an example. I think there's a video of the complete Hawkman outfit somewhere but I don't seem to be able to find it on short notice.
tbruyere (author) 4 years ago
And thank you! Sorry, I pressed post on auto-pilot before proofreading.
l8nite4 years ago
now those are WINGS ! totally fantastic
tbruyere (author)  l8nite4 years ago
V2.0 has back-mounted pistons, a 12v solenoid switching system, and is way more reliable. These were my first though, and turned out really well considering I had zero experience at the time.