Introduction: Balsa Wood X-Plane Glider

From the time the Wright Brothers first made history at Kitty Hawk in 1903, the world has never been the same. Planes have been around for over a hundred years, constantly being designed and improved. As early as the 1940's, America created the X-plane program, where experimental planes were designed and developed. This instructable is based on the designs of certain X-planes. If you like detailed work, then this project is for you.


-an x-acto knife or utility knife


-a foam board (I used one that was 24 in. x 24 in.)

- push pins (not from your mother's sewing kit; buy some specifically for this project as you may get glue on the them)

-wax paper

-1 balsa wood plank (1/16" x 3" x 36")


-a Sharpie

-ruler (with centimeter markings)


-Eze dope (with low fumes)

-2 small paper cups (Dixie cups work well)

-2 or 3 paint brushes


-Guillow's white tissue

-acrylic paint for desired colors of plane

Step 1: Print PDFs and Set Up Work Station

Begin by printing out the blueprints and airfoil page PDFs. Cut out the airfoil templates and set them aside. Take the foam board and set it down on an open work space. Place the blueprint page down on the center of the board. Tear off a sheet of wax paper slightly larger than the blueprints, place it over them, and secure each corner with a pin.

*Important* In the blueprint PDF, I incorrectly stated strip #3 was 4 cm. It is actually 9 cm. It was, however, corrected in the photo above.

Step 2: Cutting the Balsa Wood

First, we will start with the bottom framework. Cut 4 strips of balsa wood that are 1/2 cm. wide and 35 cm. long. Then, take a strip and cut off a 20.0 cm strip. Label this with a "1" in pencil. Next, cut two 6.8 cm strips, labeling them each with a "2". Continue by cutting two 9.0 cm. strips labeled "3", and two 3.7 cm. strips labeled "4".

Now, cut an 18.3 cm. strip and label it "D1", a 15.4 cm. strip labeled "C1", and a 9.1 cm. strip labeled "B1".

Take the airfoil templates from step 1 and place them over the balsa wood plank. Trace the shape with a pencil and use an x-acto/utility knife to carefully cut them out. Make 2 copies of each size, labeling them correctly with the biggest being "A" and the smallest being "D".

Step 3: Laying Out the Frame

Now that you have the pieces for the framework, you can lay them out accordingly by matching up the labels with the blueprints.

Use pins to keep the wood in place. Stick them straight through the center areas of each strip. Avoid getting too close to the edge as balsa wood can splinter easily.

There will be overlap, so you will need to cut the pieces to make them fit together at an angle.

Once that is complete, take the superglue and add a drop on all joints. Let dry overnight to ensure a strong bond.

Step 4: Attaching the Airfoils

It's that time! Take the airfoils that you cut out in step 2 and line them up according to the blueprints. The corresponding airfoil letter is located at the top and bottom of each vertical line.

In order for the airfoils to get the best fit, you will need to cut notches so they sit down into the frame. Line them up in their position, use a pencil to mark the notches, and then cut them out.

Once all the airfoils have been fitted, you can pin them in place. Instead of puncturing the wood this time, you will need to put the pins along the sides so they push up against the airfoils. On the shorter ends of the airfoils, you can also make an "x" formation by pushing two pins in at an angle to form an "x".

After securing all the parts, add a drop of glue to all the joints where the airfoils are connected. Make sure to get the left and right sides on each point of connection. Let dry overnight for the best bond.

Step 5: Papering Your Plane

Remove all pins from the plane and carefully separate it from the wax paper. Gather the paper cups, Eze dope, tissue paper, and a paint brush.

Place the plane on top of a sheet of tissue paper so that it sits flat and trace the outline. Cut it out with scissors and set aside. This will be for the back side of the plane.

Place another sheet of the tissue paper over the plane this time and use scissors to cut strips that will cover the space between each airfoil. Label each strip with whatever you need to help you remember its location. Allow for overlap on each strip as this will make them easier to maneuver later.

Fill one paper cup with a 1/2 cm. of Eze dope and the rest with water. Label this cup with a "1" in Sharpie. Fill the other cup with 1/3 Eze dope and 2/3 water. Label this cup with a "2".

Use a paint brush to slather solution #1 on the paper that you cut out for the back. Then, place this paper on the back side, smoothing it out to remove wrinkles. Dip the paint brush in solution #2 and apply liberally to the paper all over. Let dry for several hours so the paper has time to shrink to the frame.

Take a strip of tissue paper for the airfoils and dip it in cup #1. Then place it on the plane in the corresponding spot. Gently smooth it across the airfoils tautly. Repeat this with each strip until you've covered the whole top side. Finally, dip the paint brush in solution #2 and apply over the whole top of the plane. Let dry for several hours.

Step 6: Painting and Flying Your Plane

Now that your plane is papered, it's time to finish it off with a paint job. You can do whatever design you want. In my example, I went for a space shuttle look with black on the bottom and edges and white on the top. I made up a name, x-73.

For flight, you'll need to add some small coins taped to the top, like dimes or pennies. I taped 3 dimes and 1 penny to mine along the center. When testing it out, you may have to move the coins around to find the sweet spot. If you notice that the front of your plane goes up when it flies, that means it's tail-heavy, and you should move coins away from the back of the plane. If your plane takes a nose dive, then it is nose-heavy, and you should move coins away from the front.

Remember, this isn't a professional plane, simply one of my own design. It is intended for people venturing into making balsa planes and especially for those who want to have fun. Happy flying!

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