Introduction: Build a Da Vinci Inspired Flying Machine (Glider) With Simple Supplies

About: Designer who loves aviation, software, 3d modeling/printing, and electronics.

In this Instructable, you'll learn how to make a flying machine similar to the drawings originally created by Leonardo Da Vinci in the (15th) century (over 400 years before manned flight).

Skill Level: Intermediate


Balsa Wood sticks

  • 1 qty - 1/8 x 3/8 x 36
  • 5 qty - 1/16 x 1/2 x 36
  • 1 qty - 1/4 x 1/4 x 36
  • 3 qty - 1/16 x 1/16 x 36

3 sq/ft - tissue paper

1 tube - Testors ultra fast drying wood glue

1 - Exacto knife (please be very careful, these are very sharp. Go slow and use precision. Take this project at your own risk)

4 ft - wax paper

One stack - 8.5x11 sheets of paper

20-30 - quilting needles

A cork board or a cutting mat

Scotch tape

Step 1: Get Inspired

Step 2: Create Your Design

You first will need to create your design. Grab a pencil and a stack of paper and have fun! (If you need more help on wing design see this other Instructable). I'd love to see what designs you come up with. If you're stuck on ideas, you can download my design below:

Step 3: Gather Your Supplies

It's always best to have everything organized before hand to avoid running out of supplies.

Step 4: Cut Out All the Parts

The cutting of each piece will be the hardest part of the whole project, so getting the hard part out of the way first will help us get this project done.

First we'll start with the ribs. These pieces are the most delicate so take your time and follow the steps below to get it right.

Starting with the 1/16 x 1/2 strips we'll cut out 20 ribs in total:

  • 6 - inner ribs
  • 2 - secondary ribs
  • 8 - center ribs
  • 2 - outer ribs
  • 2 - wing-end ribs

Then we need to cut the leading and trailing edges of the main wings. If you are cleaver with inverting the strip each time you do an angle cut, then you can save a ton of space and reduce the number of cuts needed.

Everything else will be cut as needed.

Step 5: Set Up Your Work Area

When I glue together my models, I like to build on top of a cork board. This makes it easy to hold everything together using quilting pins.

First, place your designs facing up. You can use pins in the corners to hold everything in place. Be sure to place wax paper over the top of the design before pinning things in place. This will help prevent the glue from sticking to the paper.

Step 6: Build the Main Wings

First we'll place all of the wing leading and trailing edge pieces in place on top of the build plans. Glue each join and quickly pin the parts in place.

Once those are all done, we'll want to glue the inner most rib first. It is very important that we use rib #1 for the inner ribs for either left or right wings. The first rib will be angled slightly to give the wings a bit of a camber. All of the other ribs will be glued at a 90º angle. Use the jig from the design plans to get a consistent angle to use for both wings.

Work your way down the wing using 4 of the inner ribs, then 4 of the center ribs, then 1 outer rib, and lastly 1 wing-end rib. You will start to see this take shape, and you'll be able to see where you can glue in the supporting spars across the top.

Step 7: Build the Tail Pieces

The tail will require two triangle shaped pieces to help support the leading point of the tail wings. Cut these out first using the 1/16 x 1/2 balsa strip.

Next, cut the lengths needed from the 1/8 x 1/8 strips.

The main pieces can be glued and pinned in place. Then you can cut support cross support pieces and glue them in place. Once these are done, go ahead and cover them in tissue paper, and repeat any shrinking needed as mention in the previous step.

Step 8: Assemble Your Wings to Fuselage

We'll first cut the main fuselage piece to a length of about 18 inches (your design may vary), and pin it on our build plan. You'll first glue the main wings in place on either side about 5 inches from the front. In this design we glue the wings on before covering them in tissue paper.

Step 9: Cover Wings in Tissue Paper

When covering the wings, I trim the paper to have a 1 inch overhang on all sides. Then, place glue on the top parts of the spars and press the tissue paper into place. Let that dry. Then, keep gluing the rest of the paper in place. Pull the paper tight as you work your way around. Once you have everything glued in place, you can then fold over all of the overhangs and glue them in place.

Step 10: Attach the Tail Wings

In this step, your tail wings should already be covered in tissue paper.

I shaved a small groove into the tail section of the fuselage to provide an angle point the tail wings downward slightly. Use as much glue as you need to get this to hold firmly. The tail should make a V shape.

Step 11: Shrink Your Tissue Paper

A very important step! Be sure to shrink the tissue paper. Not only will it help your glider look really nice, but it will also help it to fly better!

Borrow a misting spray bottle (or any old spray bottle will work) and mist your wings until they are damp. Be sure not to get them too wet or over handle the wings while wet, as to avoid tearing any pieces.

Then set your glider out in a protected area outside where it can soak up the rays from the sun. The heat will help to dry and shrink the tissue paper. This step may not seem like it's working, but you'll be surprised how much excess tissue paper this can take up. You can see a big difference in the photos above. Feel free to do this more than once as necessary, however tissue paper will shrink a ton, so one time should get you there.

Step 12: Fly Your Glider!

Congratulations! You've completed your flying machine. Now before we hang this up on the wall as a unique piece of decor, take your design to a local hill or field and have some fun!

Before you get too ambitious, be sure to do a few small test flights at a very low altitude (like 18 inch above the ground. Do a few very light throws. This will help you to understand if your glider is balanced or not. I taped a few pennies onto the front of my glider to help get things balance. In the Flight Video, you can see what an amazing difference it makes in the flight.

Make It Fly Challenge

Second Prize in the
Make It Fly Challenge