Introduction: Electric Airplane Launcher

Picture of Electric Airplane Launcher

Launch mini paper airplanes from your desk, without ever winding up your arm. Perfect for office shenanigans or other indoor fun!
By using common electrical components we can make our own electric paper airplane launcher!
You might even discover you have many of the parts required already laying around, especially if you have any old toys with small DC motors.

Check out the launcher in action:

Pretty neat, right?

Enough talk, let's launch some airplanes!

Step 1: Tools + Materials

Picture of Tools + Materials

  • wire strippers
  • soldering iron
  • rotary tool (or hacksaw)
  • hot glue gun
  • hobby knife

  • 2x DC motors (3V)
  • 2x rubber grommets
  • SPST switch (or any other switch)
  • copper wire
  • scrap plastic
  • small hobby box
  • 2x AAA batteries (or other 3V power)

Step 2: Wiring Diagram

Picture of Wiring Diagram

Each DC motor is rated at 3V and each AAA battery is rated for 1.5V, so we'll need 2 AAA batteries and our motors to be wired in parallel.

The neat thing about these toy DC motors is that if you reverse the polarity they spin the other direction. Using this concept we can wire each motor up inversely to each other and create a opposing rotations, allowing a pinch-point to be formed by the rotors when placed next to each other. Then, by attaching rubber grommets to the rotor heads, we can use that pinch-point as a method to fling our paper airplane.

A switch was added to allow the motors to be user controlled.
Use care when wiring and don't short circuit your motors (like I did), or your batteries (which I also did).

Step 3: Make Openings in Hobby Box

Picture of Make Openings in Hobby Box

Openings will need to be made for each rotor head, with allowance for the grommets, and for the switch and cables. I cut a large opening in one side of my box, exposing the entire front portion of the motor including the heads. Then, a large bore hole was drilled into the top for the switch and a smaller hole on the other end for the battery cables.
Your hobby box will be different, experiment with positions to find a nice compact solution.

For clean edges I used a rotary tool, but a hacksaw or sharp hobby knife would also work. These tools are dangerious, so be safe when cutting and wear appropriate safety equipment.

Step 4: Stuff Components

Picture of Stuff Components

After wiring your components and cutting openings in your hobby box it's time to stuff the former in the latter.
Use hot glue to hold everything in place, ensuring that the motor heads are clearly exposed.

Next, place the rubber grommets on each head, once installed the grommets should be lightly touching or have a slight gap between them. If the grommets have too much friction the motors won't turn and if the gap is too large your airplanes won't get any traction. Fine tune as necessary to ensure smooth, unhindered operation.

Step 5: Add Guide Rails

Picture of Add Guide Rails

These motors are tiny but powerful, so powerful that guide rails had to be included to keep the plane on desired trajectory and not getting whipped in some random direction. Rigid, thin guide rails were cut from scrap plastic and placed inside of motor heads, under the grommets. The guide rails direct the airplane into the pinch point and out the other side, directing the plane towards where ever you point it.

With the guide rails installed you're all done, put some fresh batteries in your launcher and test it out!

Did you make your own electric paper airplane launcher? Place a picture of your version of this project in the comments below and earn yourself a digital patch and a 3-month Pro Membership to!

Have fun!


Angus MacGyver (author)2012-12-17

In reality this is more consistent than manually throwing P-A's. When using your arm the trajectory is more akin to an arc, prior to release. By using a linear launcher the effects on pitch, yaw and roll can be reduced, as long as the wheels are spining at the same rate.

I'm going to try to expand the concept to allow it to throw flying wing designs (which don't have a spine)


go macgyver!

LandonG1 (author)2015-06-15

That's pretty awesome. Where did you buy the parts?

jrowley3 (author)2015-04-24

How willing are you to make and sale one to me

jmcconnell5 (author)2011-11-03

Here's mine: the body is an old cap gun, the guide rails (or rail) is a pen tube with a slot on the top, the wheels are lego ones, the switch is a big microswitch (if you look closely it is where the trigger was) and the motors are normal 3v dc ones. hope you like it :D

nkrishna3 (author)jmcconnell52014-12-10


mikeasaurus (author)jmcconnell52011-11-03

Wow, that's amazing! I'm really liking the pistol grip.
Enjoy the digital patch and 3-Month Pro Membership!

jmcconnell5 (author)mikeasaurus2011-11-04

Thanks! :D

ilpug (author)2012-10-02

Was just thinking how you could make a simple torsion version of this too, as opposed to an electric one.

reptedjess (author)2011-07-14

Because throwing the plane yourself takes to much effort. Hell, you had to even fold the paper. Get ahold of me when we have a machine that does that for us. Then I'll try this out.

kc5qnk (author)reptedjess2011-09-29

Play nice...

One use for it in the classroom setting is to provide a uniform launching force so as to be able to effectively compare different models. I have seen commercially-made launchers for this purpose, but I am going to have to build this one...very nice, and MUCH less expensive!

vishalapr (author)2011-08-30

I just added glide rails and it works quite a bit better now!

mikeasaurus (author)vishalapr2011-08-30

nice job, thanks for sharing!

You've been patched. Enjoy the 3-month Pro Membership!

vishalapr (author)mikeasaurus2011-08-30

Thanks for the patch and membership!

vishalapr (author)2011-08-29

Here is mine! I didn't need any guide rails...but maybe will add some soon...
And my motors were round batteries were AA and the switch was some weird switch I got from an old yeah mine is bigger...

ilpug (author)2011-07-24

great. gotta make this for some of the larger gliders i have made. i have two old tablesaw motoers.... i wonder if i could make a giant one to launch a giant plane?

DieCastoms (author)2011-07-14

I would like to make or see someone else make a pistol-grip version of this with a "launch button" for the trigger. It would run only when the button is held.

Very simple and fun looking instructable. I may try it if I get a chance.

masynmachien (author)DieCastoms2011-07-15

I like these launchers. This is a great Ible on it.

My daughter and all of her classmates did a pistol-grip version a couple of weeks ago, based on my related Super-fast-paper-plane-launcher Ible. They made it to fit balsa gliders they also built.

Flying_MashedPotatoes (author)2011-07-15

sweet idea, seems to work well.

sommmen (author)2011-07-15

we so gotta make a turet out of this!

dreadengineer (author)2011-07-14

There's an alternative that works well for motors that just have a normal shaft, with no gear mounted: use a Lego wheel, the kind that fits onto a plastic Lego shaft. Drill a hole down the center of the Lego shaft, and push the Lego shaft onto your motor's shaft. You can now mount a Lego wheel on the shaft of your motor.

ScottyAlmanjoy (author)2011-07-14

I feel like it would be better if you could bend the guardrails upward at the exit end, since the airplanes in the video seemed to be launched at a downward trajectory.

TheHawkeye (author)2011-07-12

Very cool. Reminds me of matchbox car launchers. It could use a clip and a trigger though.

depotdevoid (author)2011-07-12

Awesome, nice one! I wonder how well this would scale up . . .

shveet (author)2011-07-12

can we get a video to see the approximate distance you can launch? i understand it varies from plane to plane but just to get a rough idea before i create one.

mikeasaurus (author)shveet2011-07-12

It varies from plane to plane, the power of your motors, the amount of juice in the batteries and the assembly of the launcher itself. Under the best-case scenario I was able to launch about 10-15'.

OrigamiAirEnforcer (author)2011-07-11

Can this accommodate planes with angles of incidence of 0 degrees (wings parallel to the bottom of the fuselage)?

It depends of where your rubber grommets are located, in this design there needs to be some clearance below the plane in order for the grommets to 'bite'. But, you could easily modify the assembly to meet other plane designs, it may be as easy as turning the launcher upside down and using the grommets to bite onto the tail for launch.

george97 (author)2011-07-12


CaseyCase (author)2011-07-11


splazem (author)2011-07-11


nnygamer (author)2011-07-11

Cool, quick redo it so it can plug into your USB port for power then enter it in the contest!

tilmen (author)2011-07-11

ultra cool.

One of the 'patentable' diys I've seen.

SHIFT! (author)2011-07-11

Awesome job, love your graphics btw!

ynze (author)2011-07-11

Absolutely non-critical for life on Earth. And great fun!

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm Mike and I make crazy things at Instructables HQ in San Francisco. Follow me and try a few of my projects for yourself!
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