Introduction: Hoop Glider/Airplane STEAM Activity

About: We're the spectrUM Discovery Area, a hands-on science museum in Missoula, MT. We have a physical museum located within the Missoula Public Library, but also create science kits, lead teacher professional devel…

This is part of a series of Instructables detailing free science kits and activities developed by the spectrUM Discovery Area in Missoula, MT. The kits and activities are for use at home, in the classroom, or in a distance learning setting with teachers.

For more on how our museum shares these activities with students and teachers, see this video on YouTube.

This hoop glider is a great way to explore the four forces of flight and make a paper airplane that is different than most that you may have seen. It uses some very inexpensive and readily available materials around the house. There are endless ways to modify this plane to get different results, so experiment with what works best!

This Instructable is entered into the Remix Contest. We got the original inspiration from this most excellent Instructable: Many thanks to The Children's Museum of Houston for the great details, videos and instructions! We've used this activity at many public outreach events and have developed it into a take-home science kit that we've distributed to families around the state of Montana.


  • Paper of any kind - pick your favorite color, or mix and match!
  • A straw - paper is best but plastic works okay, too. If you have a bendy straw you might cut it at the bend and use the longest section.
  • Tape, glue or glue dots.
  • Scissors
  • Pencil (optional)
  • Scissors (optional)
  • Paper clips (optional)

Step 1: Make Two Paper Strips

To make your hoop glider, you will need two hoops. Their dimensions aren't too important, but it is important for them to be two different sizes - one larger than the other. Using a standard sheet of paper (letter, A4 or construction) cut the longest side first. This will help to ensure that you get the biggest hoop. Measure about 1" to 2" (25mm-50mm) from the edge, mark with a ruler and cut. This is about the length of your thumb from tip to bend - if you have smaller thumbs, maybe add a little bit. You don't have to mark your line, it's not critical that the edge is perfect so don't worry if you don't have a ruler or mess it up!

Then, measure a strip about the same width along the shortest edge of the paper, and cut that off. This will produce two strips that are pretty different in length. If you're cutting out of another piece of paper like newspaper, just make sure one strip is about 11"-15" long, and the other is about 7"-10". If in doubt, try it out! You can always cut new ones or make a strip shorter if needed.

Step 2: Turn Your Strips Into Hoops

Now it's time to make the hoop part of the hoop glider. Take each strip, turn it into a ring by joining the ends together, and tape or glue in place. Do this for both of the strips of paper that you cut in the previous step. You'll end up with one big loop and one smaller loop.

If you're using glue dots, peel the clear piece off first and stick the glue dot onto one end of the paper. Then, peel off the white piece and stick the other end of the paper to the exposed glue dot - that's it!

Step 3: Attach Your Hoops to the Straw

Take the two hoops and attach them to the straw with tape or glue/glue dot. It's easiest to attach a glue dot or tape to the straw first, then stick the hoop on, but do what works best for you and don't worry about this part. One hoop goes at one end of the straw, the other hoop on the opposite end. Line them up so they're attached to the straw in the same manner (see the image above). It's fine if the straw is either on the inside of the hoops or outside - inside tends to hold up a bit better over many launches, but if you put it on the outside don't sweat it!

Now your hoop glider is ready to launch - throw it with the smaller hoop facing forward (in the direction of flight). How far does it go?!

Step 4: What's Going on Here? This Doesn't Look Like It Could Fly...

It may look weird, but you will discover it flies pretty well. The two sizes of hoops help to keep the straw balanced as it flies. When you throw the plane, you are giving it thrust. The big hoop creates drag, or air resistance, which helps keep the straw level. The smaller hoop at the front keeps your hoop plane stable and flying on a straight path. When you throw it there is just enough lift to keep the plane gliding along and slow its fall to the ground as gravity pulls it towards the Earth. Thrust, drag, lift, and gravity are the four forces of flight, as illustrated in the image with the airplane above. All flying things balance these forces in different ways to be able to fly through the air.

Experiment with making bigger or smaller loops with other pieces of paper. Try different designs to see how they fly differently. Here are some ideas:

  • What happens when you throw it with the smaller loop in the back?
  • What about with the straw on top instead of closest to the ground?
  • What happens if you add an extra loop in the middle?
  • What about taping another straw to the one you have to make it twice as long?
  • Make another just like your first and attach them together - what happens?
  • Add some weight to the front of your glider with a paper clip (or something else similar). What happens?
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