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The rubberband-powered helicopter is easy to construct, and with a little practice it can be flown 20+ feet into the air!

If you enjoy this project, then check out my books: Rubber Band Engineer and Duct Tape Engineer. || More engineering projects || Everything I make


How It Works:
1. Energy is stored in the sport rubber by winding the propeller.
2. When flown, the rubberband 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 rubberband 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.

Step 1: Materials

Please message me to report broken links. All of these materials are used in my other Instructables for kids, so your purchases can be used across multiple projects.

Propellers with plastic mount
Craft sticks
Paperclips
Rubber bands
Card stock
Masking tape
Scissors

Step 2: Propeller

The propellers from Kelvin.com should fit snugly onto a craft stick

Step 3: Paperclip

Bending and attaching the paperclip is usually the most challenging step for young kids in grades 1-3. I usually hold the end of the paperclip (on the right side of the photo) between my thumb and forefinger. Then I show how the paperclip bends inside itself. The students need to pull that inside bend apart from the rest of the clip.

Attaching the paperclip can also be tricky. It it's not properly attached, it can be ripped off from too much tension. I try to make it simple for my students: hold the paperclip flat against the craft stick with the tip of the thumb, then tightly wrap a piece of masking tape around it.

It helps if the two ends of the paperclip are separated by the craft stick as shown in the photos, but it's not necessary.

Step 4: Paper Cutout

The paper cutout is crucial; it's what make the copter work. If it's too small, then it won't create enough lateral drag, and too much of the energy in the rubberband will be diverted to the craft stick. If the cutout is huge, it'll simply be too heavy.

I find that cutouts that are about 1.5" by 7" made from cardstock work really well. You can add flavor to this project by create templates for the students to trace, like a helicopter silhouette. For Halloween one year, I made a bat wing template and renamed the project 'Baticopters'

Attach the cutout on the opposite side of the exposed paperclip - this will help ensure that the rubberband won't rub against it.

Step 5: Attach Rubberbands

There are a few ways to attach the rubberbands, but I think the easiest is to put your fingers inside the rubberband and stretch it. The taught rubberband should easily slip into the propeller hook and paperclip.

I find that two rubberbands is the ideal number, but you can experiment.

Step 6: How to Fly

For some students, flying the helicopter is more challenging than building it. First of all, the helicopter must be wound up enough. The number of turns will be different depending upon what brand of rubberband you use. I twist the rubberband until it because completely coiled, and I keep going. You'll notice that the rubberband begins to form a second set of twists that are bulkier - it looks like tight bundles of knotted rubberband. If you fill up the whole length of the rubberband with double-twisted rubberband, then it probably has enough energy.

To fly, hold the top of the propeller and the bottom of the craft stick near the paperclip. For a stable and high-reaching flight, you must let go of the top first and then the bottom within half of a second of each other. This can be difficult for young students to coordinate, so I tell hem to verbally say "tick tock." As they say the words "tick tock," they should respectively let go of the top and bottom of the helicopter.

You can also fly the helicopter sideways following the same procedure.

Step 7: Advanced Ideas

Click on the images for specific design notes.

Step 8: Safety, Tips and Troubleshooting

  • Students should pay close attention to their helicopter while winding it. If they're winding it absentmindedly, sometimes their hand will slip away from the propeller, allowing it to spin prematurely. They will naturally move their hand closer to the propeller to continue winding, and the spinning propeller may cut their hand.
  • Spinning propellers can get caught in long hair.
  • 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. Remind them to say "top-bottom" as they let go. It really helps.
  • 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
  • Stay far away from buildings, trees and fences!

I am always trying to improve my projects, so please let me know what you think. Thanks!

Do you have a copy of your template for the plane that you can share?
<p>Thanks for the awesome project!</p>
<p>thank you for such a well made post and video! I'm looking forward to doing this project with my maker kids!</p>
<p>AWEsome fun and so COOL! Thanks for the DIY how to! I'm a 65 year old kid that can hardly wait to show to other kids of all ages too! Will definitely look at more of your projects and will check out your book too! Much thanks!</p>
Good question! You can buy a cheap balsa wood plane kit on Amazon or at a toy store, and use the propeller from that. Or buy lots of propellers from Kelvin and make tons of helicopters!
<p>Love this and bought your book for Grandpa to keep the 4 boys busy, but the only source for those popsicle stick blade parts is Kelvin and they have a $30. minimum, and the blades are $0.49. Do you know of any other sources for the propellar blades that don't have such a high minimum? I spent a lot of time searching and no luck.</p>
<p>Some happy kids in Taiwan today. Thanks for posting!</p>
<p>this actually works but only for a few sec</p>
<p>how can i get the material to build this...???????pls give me a reply...</p>
<p>Is there a way to connect a different prop to the craft stick? </p>
<p>It is so well and amazing! I like it!</p>
what size propellers did u use? which one from the catalog?
I build many kinds of model aircraft and because I can't buy propellers and associated parts to hold it and the rubber band, I usually build these from bits of rubbish laying around my room. To build a prop, I cut and bend a piece of plastic of the right strength/flexibility before gluing it to 2 beads and a piece of wire. For the part that holds the propeller shaft I cut a pen lid in half and glued one part to the side of the other to house a stick for a fuselage and poked a hole in the cap for the wire to fit through. Also, have you thought about making a rubberband powered autogyro? I made one a few months back and it works pretty well.
this would be a great way to have a party activity
Indeed it is - I've conducted this activity for birthday events as well as in the classroom. I've also used it at a local festival as a craft for kids.
Lovely! I can see my students having fun making it!

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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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