Introduction: Rubber Band Helicopters - Engineering Projects for Kids

The rubber band-powered helicopter is a favorite of my students because of the ease of construction and the exciting end product!

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Materials and Tools:


How It Works:
1. Energy is stored in the sport rubber by winding the propeller.
2. When flown, the sport rubber rapidly releases its energy by unwinding, which turns both the propeller blade and the paper cutout.
3. The paper cutout pushes against the surrounding air, which creates horizontal air resistance, or drag. This makes it harder for the cutout to spin. Because the cutout does not spin as easily, more energy from the sport rubber is released into the propeller, which is much easier to turn. In this way, the paper acts like the rear rotor of a real helicopter
4. As the propeller spins rapidly, it begins to create lift by pushing air downward. With enough energy, the helicopter will fly in whatever direction it is pointing.

Tips and Troubleshooting:

- The number one reason helicopters fail to fly is due to simply not winding the rubberband enough.
- The second biggest reason is caused by letting go of the whole helicopter at once. When I show students how to fly the helicopter, I say, "Let go - let go," as I release the top and bottom. Tell your students that verbalizing "Let go - let go" in one's head or out loud can help coordinate one's hands.
- You may want to tie the sport rubber for younger students during your prep time.
- Try making templates of bird wings or a helicopter silhouette. For one Halloween, I made cardboard templates of bats. For added flair, the project was renamed "Baticopters."
- In my experience, a long rectangle approximately 6" x 1.5" made out of cardstock is the most efficient shape and material.
- Cutouts which span less than 3" typically do not perform well.
- With a little practice, students can throw the helicopter as it is being released for additional height
- Spinning propellers can get caught in long hair.
- Stay far away from buildings, trees and fences!

Comments

obsoehollerith (author)2012-11-06

Too Cool! In a neighborhood clinic near me they have a counseling meeting for parents.I needed an A&D counseling credit for school, and found myself in this group meeting one day. As this meeting The kids they bring generally have nothing to do for the hour, as the focus of the group is on the adult's parenting skills. When I realized what meeting I was in,I figured on Boring,Boring,and more Boring. I couldn't have been farther from the truth. To try and settle down a fidgety and uncomfortable little girl of 3 or 4, (they were all about that age), I made her a 'shuttle' type paper airplane- (the kind that kinda floats slowly, instead of zooming straight into the ground). She loved it! the other kids immediately took notice,and quit squirming and whining - now I was the one having fun.
I would like to use the helicopter design,and find a way to deploy a parachute when the band's tension is gone. Just a tiny 'chute, more for the looks than anything. 2 projects in one! I'll post whatever I come up with. Race Ya to It!

hnguyen phung (author)2012-07-05

i'm in Vietnam and i CAN'T order the Nose Hook Propeller so PLEASE HELP ME MAKE THE Nose Hook Propeller

Crocatiel (author)2012-04-19

I love this project, but where could you buy cheap propellers? Could you make a propeller out of paper or something? Thanks!

LanceMakes (author)Crocatiel2012-05-22

The propellers from Kelvin.com are pretty cheap, only about $0.50 each

shibyfonya (author)2012-05-22

Cool activity!

One question though, what site were the blades purchased from?

LanceMakes (author)shibyfonya2012-05-22

I provided a link under Materials and Tools, but here it is again:

6" Hook nose propellers 

The site name is Kelvin.com

Hope this helps - let me know if you decide to make a heli :)

RSV26 (author)2012-03-05

but wont it spin like a helicopter with out the rear rotor???

LanceMakes (author)RSV262012-03-05

Yes, both the propeller and propeller shaft + foam cutout spin in opposing directions. The whole point of having a foam cutout is to create lateral drag, which reduces the spinning of the propeller shaft so more energy from the wound rubberband goes toward the propeller. It also makes the copter look cool :)

RSV26 (author)LanceMakes2012-03-05

so its a airplan that fli's up. nice

B3rker (author)2012-02-14

Awesome and simple project, tomorrow I make one!

ITChE (author)2012-01-06

Awesome! I teach a similar class called Makers! which is a mix of Art & Engineering. We will definitely be trying this. Thanks for sharing. Are you on twitter? I sometimes share ideas or projects on there.

LanceMakes (author)ITChE2012-01-08

Thanks! Unfortunately I'm not on Twitter, but I do have a Facebook page for my program

seamster (author)2012-01-06

Thank you for sharing this!

I also teach a similar class, and I'll definitely be adding this to my list of activities. (You might be interested in a couple of my instructables if you haven't seen them yet... Paper Stomp Rockets and Paper Stomp Jets have proven to be favorites in my classes, lending to great hands-on lessons in physics.)

These helicopters are wonderful. If you got more great ideas like this one... please share!

LanceMakes (author)seamster2012-01-06

Thanks for the kind words. I'll most definitely be sharing more! I also conduct a paper rocket project similar to yours, though the launcher is powered by compressed air from a bicycle pump and released with a valve.

seamster (author)LanceMakes2012-01-06

We've got a lot of fat kids where I live, so I like to make them work a little harder to make their rockets fly!

wilgubeast (author)seamster2012-01-06

Oh dear. Solving childhood obesity one rocket at a time.

jessyratfink (author)2012-01-06

This is great! Lots of good explanation. :D

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Bio: I'm a writer, maker, and educator. For free lesson plans and teaching materials, check out LanceMakes.com.
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