Introduction: Balloon Hovercraft

About: More than 14 pulsating exhibits make the Children's Museum of Houston one of the top rated in the country. Packed with daily activities and invigorating performances, it’s the place where minds come out to pl…

Design a toy hovercraft!

This is one of the 48 projects for our Instructables: Made In Your Mind (IMIYM) exhibition at the Children’s Museum of Houston showing from May 26, 2012 - November 4, 2012. Produced in partnership with Instructables, IMIYM is an exhibit where families work together to build different fun, toy-like projects that help construct knowledge and skills related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics while instilling a “do-it-yourself” attitude in kids so they feel empowered to explore, tinker, and try to make things themselves. To learn more, check out the article here.

While we created this project, we found a similar project with the CD Hovercraft by Vitaman X, but there may be others on Instructables that are also similar. Often, the materials and process for building our projects are designed for use with a large number of visitors (we see over 800,000 annually) and the need to ensure safety in a mostly non-facilitated environment. So, yes, many of these projects have room for improvement in both materials and methodology, which is PRECISELY what we want to encourage the kids to do. So please do share your ideas for improvement and modifications!

Step 1: What You Need

We are selective in our materials for cost, ease of use, and safety due to our high traffic (800,000 visitors annually). So, for our purposes, this design worked best. But you may have other ideas - please share!

1 - Short Wood Spool - we use a 3/4" diameter x 1" high spool. We purchase ours (in bulk) from Craft America
1 - CD
1 - 12” Balloon
1 - Straw
Masking Tape

Step 2: The Video

We offer optional video segments of each step in the actual exhibit. Here is a compilation of all the steps.

Step 3: Step 1

Center the spool over the hole in the center of the CD. Make sure the holes line up and, using several 1” pieces of tape, tape the spool to the CD. Make sure to completely seal the bottom edge of the spool to the CD.

Step 4: Step 2

Stretch the balloon over the top of the spool. If you want, you can tape the balloon to the spool, but it isn't necessary.

Step 5: Step 3

Using the straw, blow through the hole in the bottom of the CD to inflate the balloon. Pinch the balloon, so the air cannot escape.

Step 6: To Use

While holding the balloon, place the CD flat onto the table. Let go of the balloon and give the hovercraft a gentle push.

air flows out of the balloon, through the spool, and under the CD. Because the CD has a very flat surface and is evenly weighted, it lifts the entire hovercraft off the table. The air cushion between the CD and the table reduces the friction (a force that slows moving objects) and allows the Balloon Hovercraft to glide along the table. This is a similar principle to what allows air hockey pucks to float (although their air cushion comes up from the table).

Education Contest

Participated in the
Education Contest