Introduction: D.I.Y. Magic: the Incredible Walkalong Glider

About: Mechanical engineering student, ever the optimist. Gets along well with other pets, great with kids; loves to go for long walks, needs plenty of space to run in.

Hi there! Are you looking for a magical toy that will provide hours, days, or even years of satisfaction? Look no further!

Walkalong gliders are very lightweight styrofoam gliders which, when introduced to a slight updraft of air, will remain airborne for as long as you wish! Too good to be true? Check out this awesome video here!

I discovered these incredible levitating toys as a kid, and they are still one of my favorite hobbies!

There are many, many designs out there, a lot of which I have tried. However, I was never quite satisfied with their performance, and one day decided to make my own using everything I had learned. I christened it the zephyr. This glider is the one I will be using for this tutorial, although the steps will apply to most designs out there.

If all goes well (and it should), this glider only takes about 30 minutes to make; you will likely spend way more than that amount of time flying it around!

This glider is perfect for both beginners and advanced pilots, as its speed is highly adjustable, and it out-maneuvers every other design I have tried.

With all that said, are you ready to begin building your own?

Let's get started!


You will need:

  • 1/16" Thin-sliced polystyrene (don't worry if that sounds pretty technical... it's just foam packaging that's been sliced up with a hot wire. I personally prefer the kind used to package things like light fixtures, as it is the least dense foam I've found. Go here for some great instructables on slicing foam yourself. Alternatively, it can be purchased online. Also, the thickness of the foam is entirely up to you, but I have found that anywhere between 1/16" and 1/8" work pretty well.).
  • Hot glue/hot glue gun.
  • A pair of sharp scissors (fabric scissors work great for this, but kids scissors will work as well.).
  • Wire-cutters.
  • Tape (painter's tape is the safest one to use, as it won't destroy the foam, but other kinds can be used as well, as long as you're careful to avoid tearing the foam.).
  • Some kind of thin, stiff wire (old guitar strings work well).
  • The printed pdf template for the glider.
  • *Optional* Fabric markers.

That's it!

Step 1: Print the Template!

First, you'll need to print out the template you're going to use; it doesn't have to be the one I have here, although I recommend it for ease of use.

Once you've got your template, go ahead and cut it out!

Note that there is a scale check underneath the template; this is so that you can make sure it has printed at the original size, but is not necessary. I have experimented with different scales, but the original seems to be the best so far.

Also, do not cut on the dotted lines; we will use these later.

Step 2: Cutting Out the Glider

Now you will need to gently tape the template you just cut out to the foam.

Chances are, if you cut the foam yourself, the sheet(s) will have a bit of curve to them. If so, you will need to flip the template upside-down after cutting out the first half (yes, you need to cut two of them.). This will prevent your finished glider from having some serious problems!

Also, I do recommend that you use painter's tape to hold the template down to the foam. This will allow you to peel the tape off easily when you're finished cutting, and it won't rip the foam.

If you don't have painter's tape, you can just stick the pieces of whatever tape you are using to a surface, and then peel them off again before using them. This will make the tape less sticky and easier to use on the foam.

Now, this part is up to you, and pretty much any pair of relatively sharp scissors will get the job done, but I like to use fabric scissors... they just cut really clean edges.

Step 3: Gluing Time...

For this step, you will begin by determining which side will be the top/ bottom of your glider. Remember that curved foam I was talking about earlier? This is where that matters.

Please be sure before gluing that you have the correct edges pressed together (refer to the 2nd photo above).

So... If your new wings have a curve to them, you will want to make sure that the wings are curving the same way before gluing. Once that's done, press the wings down on a flat surface, push them together, and put a very thin bead of glue along the seam. If you can use the glue gun's hot tip to melt the edges of the foam together as well, so much the better. Your glider will probably stick to the worksurface; don't freak out! just gently wiggle it loose after it's dry, or slide a long, thin, flat object underneath.

(Obviously, if your foam isn't curved, don't worry about which way is up yet.)

Additionally, I like to glue a small triangular scrap of foam to the underside of the nose of the glider, as it greatly increases the lifetime of the glider (3rd photo). However, this adds weight, and is entirely optional.

One more thing... If you want to go for the minimal amount of weight, this step may be skipped by making two templates and cutting the glider out all in one piece. However, the weight added to the seam in this step does seem to make the glider more capable of sharp turns, if that's what you're going for.

Step 4: Heat Forming

This is the tricky bit.

Remember those dotted lines on the template?

Go find your template and take a look at it.

The area within the dotted lines on the back edge of the wings will be bent upwards.

Similarly, the area within the dotted lines on the front edge will be bent downwards.

To do this, first place your glider upside-down on a table or book, preferably one you won't mind getting a little glue on.

Looking at the template, line up the part of the glider (on the back edge) where the dotted lines would be with the edge of the table/book (refer to the first two photos; this will have to be done in steps, as the lines cannot all be lined up at once).

Now, being careful to avoid melting all the way through the foam, apply some light downward pressure to the part of the glider that is hanging over the edge while passing the hot tip of the hot glue gun along the edge.

This will cause the glider to have a permanent upwards bend in it (elevons).

Once you have finished all of the back edges, flip the glider upright again, and repeat this process on the front edge (3rd photo).

This will cause the glider to have a permanent downwards bend along the front edge (camber).

Now, for the last part of this step, you will need to lightly re-heat the seam between the two halves of the wings and gently bend the glider upwards (4th photo) (dihedral).

Congratulations! You're done with the hard part!

Step 5: Balancing and Trimming for Flight!

OK. Pick up your glider and drop it. Nothing exciting happens, right? As you can see, we are going to need to balance and trim our glider for flight.

The best place to start with this is to grab that wire you collected earlier, and (preferably using eye protection) cut a piece of it about 2" long. the exact length doesn't matter, as long as there is enough to trim off later.

Glue this to the nose of your glider (first photo). I like to put it on the underside just to keep the topside looking clean, but it doesn't really matter.

Great! Pick your glider up again, and drop it. Hopefully you'll get a lot more forward motion this time, but it will probably go right into a nosedive.

Go collect your glider, and return it to your workspace.

Now, make sure that the large flaps on the rear of the wing aren't bent too far up. They should look something like the ones in the 3rd photo, but if not, gently bend them around untill they're pretty close.

Almost done!

Now, drop the glider again, and observe its trajectory; not much should have changed.

Go ahead and use your wire-cutters to trim off about one eighth inch of the wire.

Drop the glider again. If this is getting old, well, get used to it :) This time, it should have traveled a little bit further before meeting the ground.

Repeat this process of dropping, retrieving, and trimming wire until the glider is flying almost level, and moving rather slowly through the air. If the glider starts dipping and rising in flight (stalling), stop trimming the wire, bend the rear elevons down a bit, and call it good.

I also like to either curl the sharp tip of the wire backwards or dip it in a tiny amount of hot glue to keep it from pricking things it shouldn't!

Once you've got the flight path leveled out a bit, you may need to adjust it left or right.

To do this, bend the elevon on the side you want to turn towardsUP, and the other one DOWN. It doesn't take much though, so be careful.

Fantastic! Now that the glider is flying properly, you can adjust its "cruising speed" by bending the rear elevons up or down. The steeper the angle, the slower the glider will fly. Also, the flatter you make them, the faster it will go.

For most purposes, you will want the glider to be going as slowly as possible. However, get it going too slowly, and the glider will begin stalling, which is almost never a good thing. Make it go a little faster, and it should stop stalling.

There you go! Your glider is ready to go amaze your friends and family!

However, you may wish to decorate it to make it just a little more magical ;)

Step 6: Decorating! Optional.

Yay! You're ready to go fly! But let's add a personal finishing touch...

Stickers work great for decorating things, don't they? Well... unfortunately, they are also kind of heavy.

I like to use fabric markers for this, as they're kinda perfect for it.

Go ahead and draw/stencil whatever you wish on your glider!

Step 7: How to Fly Your Glider

Now, I could go on to tell you exactly how to fly your glider, but it turns out that there is already an excellent YouTube video on the subject; you can watch that here. However, here are the basics.

  • Drop the glider from well above eye level.
  • Holding a book, piece of cardboard, or something else with a large flat surface (it should be tilted back like this: \ ), slowly walk forwards as the glider nears eye level.
  • keeping an even pace with the glider, try to keep it above and just in front of the top edge of the cardboard.
  • to turn, tilt cardboard in the direction you want to turn, and slowly turn the cardboard with it.

That's it! keep at it for a half hour or so, and you will have mastered flying your glider!

Don't limit yourself to walking around with a piece of cardboard though. There are many fun ways to play with these gliders.

  • Try using your hands, arms, or head in place of the cardboard... This one in particular draws a lot of attention from onlookers, and makes you look pretty awesome! I have included a photo demonstrating the proper way to hold your hands when using them to generate updraft; just make sure you're tilting them backwards! The glider template I have provided here is really good for using your hands.
  • Find a long corridor with a steady, smooth draft flowing through it. Challenge a friend, and see who can trim their glider to hover the longest without assistance!
  • Make an entire fleet, and have a race, marathon, or whatever other contest you can think of!
  • One more, and this is my favorite: the zephyr is really, really good at handling turbulence... If you can run fast enough, try to catch a dust devil (a small, tornado-like vortex commonly found in harvested corn fields), and launch your glider into it! Trust me, it's loads of fun! I once got one to go over 100 feet up in the air before it escaped the vortex and gently floated back to earth.

Note: it is a good idea to always handle your glider with one hand to avoid tearing the foam.

Step 8: Other Info/links

believe it or not, walkalong gliders have been around for quite a while!

here's a book by Philip Rossoni that will tell you everything you need to know and more!

Thank you for reading this instructable! It's my first, and I'm really excited to see what y'all think, so please feel free to give your feedback in the comments!

At the time of this writing, only 10 zephyrs have been built, in three different scales. If you make this project, please feel free to let me know in the comments and post a photo of your work!

Make It Fly Challenge

Participated in the
Make It Fly Challenge