Introduction: Inspector Gadget Costume With Motorized Helicopter

About: Hi, I'm Laura and I make stuff!

Go go gadget COPTER!

This moving Halloween costume was made almost entirely from recycled and thrifted materials. It was a serious crowd-pleaser -- I walked into a bar and everyone started chanting "Go Go Gadget" until I switched on the helicopter and the entire bar started cheering. You too can be this awesome!

I started collecting materials for this costume the weekend before halloween. It probably took 8-12 hours to construct, over the course of a few days as the spray paint needs to dry overnight.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

To make this costume, you need:

Thrifted, found or borrowed:
- a gray or beige trench coat
- a blue necktie
- a white collared shirt
- blue pants (I wore jeans)
- mens' dress shoes (it looks properly cartoonish if they are a bit too big)
- brown gloves (I wore my work gloves)

(These will get destroyed, so don't borrow them)
- a classic fedora (~$3-$8) (If you can't thrift it, get a cheap foam one from a costume shop.) Brown, gray or beige will look gadget-astic.
- a 1980s-era battery operated shoe polisher with detachable heads (~$3)
(check on ebay if you can't thrift it - get one like this)
- two old bike grips (see if a local bike shop has some they don't want)

From the hardware store:
- two 3' long, 1/2" diameter aluminum tubes (~$8 each)
- glossy orange spray paint (~$5-7)
- white universal primer spray paint (~$5-7)
- a tiny amount of gray or silver universal spray paint (optional)
- three wooden paint stir sticks
- a screw (I used a random drywall screw I had around)
- a small electrical flip switch ($3)
- 8 feet of relatively thin, flexible copper insulated electrical wire (~$2)
- a roll of electrical tape ($1)

From the recycling bin:
- a cardboard box about 16" long
- an empty cereal box
- two empty plastic 500-yard thread spools
- three empty jars or oatmeal tins with lids
- a wire twist tie

From a craft store or your stash:
- around a 20"x20" piece of black faux fur ($1)
- a small sheet of sticky-back felt ($.50)
- a bunch of hot glue sticks
- a tube of strong glue (like e6000)
- four AA batteries (for the shoe polisher)

- needle-nose pliers/wire cutters
- a tiny phillips-head screwdriver (you can find it at a hobby shop)
- a regular-sized screwdriver
- a hot glue gun
- a dremel tool
- Structured Tooth Tungsten Carbide Cutter attachment for dremel (cone or taper)
- cutting attachment for dremel that will cut aluminum and plastic
- drill bit attachment the size for your screw for the dremel (or just a separate drill)
- a vise or vise grips
- a sturdy table or workbench
- a piece of scrap wood of some kind, at least a foot long (I used a mini ironing board...)
- an x-acto knife
- a utility knife
- a ruler
- sewing pins
- helpful: a smartphone and an angle-measuring app

- a spray paint mask (this is under $20 and really important for your health)
- safety glasses

This took around 8-12 hours over the course of a week to fully construct. I'd set aside several evenings to work on this costume.

Step 2: Hack the Shoe Polisher

(Before you get started on this epic costume, pop in some AA batteries and make sure the shoe polisher is working properly.)

Take your length of electrical wire and cut it in half. Take off the battery cover and remove the batteries from the shoe polisher. Use your tiny screwdriver to remove the two screws holding the plastic case together (I had to pop off a plastic circle from inside the battery area to get at the second case screw). Remove the 3 screws holding the motor in the case (your shoe polisher might be slightly different, but same idea). Don't lose the tiny screws! Put them in a ziplock or something. Pop out the motor and remove the on-off switch.

Find the two metal tabs that the on-off switch makes contact with in the "on" position. Strip one end of each of your pieces of electrical wire about 3/4". Bend the stripped ends into little hooks and hook each one onto one of the metal tabs. Pinch securely with pliers. Use a bunch of electrical tape to keep them from touching.

Try putting the motor component back in the plastic case with the wires coming out of the hole where the on-off switch used to be. If it doesn't fit, mark on the case where the wires are blocking it. Use the dremel cone grinding (tungsten) tool to expand the switch opening in the top + bottom pieces of the case so it can close around the wires.

Carefully put the motor back into the case and reattach all of the screws. Put the case back together with the screws you have carefully saved. You can test if the hack is working by putting the batteries back in and touching the far ends of the electrical wires together. (Don't leave the batteries in while you're working, though.)

Step 3: Keep Hacking the Shoe Polisher

Take the two empty thread spools and your dremel tungsten grinding cone and cut out the cross-bracing ribs from the inside of the spool (between the inner and outer tubes). Cut as far down as you can from one end of each spool with the dremel without cutting through either tube. Try to get at least 1/3 down the height of the spool. Leave the opposite end of the spool intact.

Take one thread spool and thread your electrical wires through the inner tube, so that the intact end of the spool ends up against the shoe polisher. Put the wire twist tie on the under-side of the shoe polisher and stick one end into the thread spool (between the inner and outer tubes). You probably will have to fold the tip a bit to fit the twist tie inside. Use a ton of hot glue on the base of the spool and stick it to the shoe polisher. Let it set and then add a bunch more all around the base to really secure it.

Place the other spool opposite the first spool, with the intact end against the shoe polisher, stick the other (folded a bit) end of the twist tie into the spool, and hot glue it like crazy to the shoe polisher as well. After it has set just add a ton of hot glue until it seems really secure. Add some glue over the twist tie as well.

Step 4: Hack the Hat

Cut out the top of the lining of the fedora. Start cutting a small hole in the crown of your fedora with your x-acto knife. Put the shoe polisher (attachment tip up and towards the rear of the hat, batteries towards the front) into the hat and see how much bigger the hole needs to be for the polisher to stick up through the hat. Keep cutting the hole bigger until it fits the part of the shoe polisher that sticks up.

Step 5: Keep Hacking the Hat

Put the hacked shoe polisher into the fedora. The spools should make it fit really tightly inside the hat, and they may even push the fedora out a bit.

Take an end of one the aluminum tubes, find where the spool is pushing against the hat, and use the tube to mark on the outside of the hat where the center of the spool is placed. Do this on both sides and take the shoe polisher out of the hat. Cut holes the size of the aluminum tubes where you marked on the hat using the x-acto knife.

Put the shoe polisher back into the hat so the spools line up with the holes you just cut. Pull the electrical wires through the hole they're near. From the inside of the hat, go totally crazy with hot glue to secure the spools and the shoe polisher in place. Put glue all over the place but avoid putting it on the battery cover, which should be hard to reach anyway. Let the glue set thoroughly before doing anything else to the hat.

Step 6: Make the Battery Opening

Cut a flap from the top of the hat from where the shoe polisher is sticking out to the front crown of the hat. This will be over the battery cover of the shoe polisher. The flap should stay down on its own but you can use a piece of double-stick tape to hold in in place as well.

Step 7: Make the Helicopter Blades

Use your utility knife to slice 3 of the long flaps (2 top, one bottom) from your cardboard box. Make a template for the helicopter blades that is about 4" wide (2" at the narrow end) and 16" long (see photo for shape). Trace the template onto the cardboard flaps and use the utility knife to cut out the shapes (don't use scissors- they will make the cardboard bend).

Use strong glue to attach a paint stir stick to each helicopter blade so that the stick extends 4" from the end of the blade. Let the glue set thoroughly before proceeding.

Step 8: Paint the Helicopter Blades

Take three 4" x 4" scraps of cardboard and cut a 1.5" slit in the center of each. Take your empty oatmeal canisters and cut a 1.5" slit in the lid of each. Put something heavy in the bottom of each oatmeal canister. Put each helicopter blade through a cardboard scrap slit and then through an oatmeal lid slit -- it should stand up vertically and extend about an inch into the canister.

Paint 2 or 3 thin layers of primer onto the helicopter blades, then spray a couple thin layers of glossy orange paint. (Go outside and use cardboard or newspaper to avoid getting paint everywhere.)

Step 9: Make Various Helicopter Bits

Take one of the shoe polisher attachment heads and attach the plastic cap to the head using strong glue.

Take another cap from a shoe polisher attachment. Place it on intersection of the helicopter blades and mark where the edges of the paint stirrers meet the cap. Use the dremel cutting tool to cut out 1/4" high slots from the cap so that it will fit over the center intersection of the helicopter blades.

Take a piece of cereal box chipboard and trace around one of the empty thread spools. Put an aluminum tube end in the center of this circle and trace around it. Cut out the donut shape and cut a slit to the center hole. Make two of these.

Mask the top face of the shoe polisher attachment with the glued-on cap using tape or a piece of cardboard.

Use the silver or gray spray paint to paint these pieces (attachment with cap, notched cap, and the two cardboard donuts).

Step 10: Construct the Helicopter

Once the paint has dried, overlap two of the helicopter blades at the unpainted end. Adjust them so that there is a 120 degree angle between them. Make sure that the paint sticks are both against the table and not facing up. Use strong glue to attach them together.

When the glue has set, attach the third helicopter blade, also with a 120 degree angle between it and the other two blades. You may want to clamp the attachment with a vise while it sets.

Take the shoe polisher attachment with the glued-on cap and attach the unpainted top face of it to the center of the helicopter blade intersection with strong glue. Make sure it is attached to the side where the cardboard blades are in front of the paint stir sticks.

When it has set, use a drill to make a small hole in the center of the helicopter intersection down into the plastic cap. Secure the connection with a screw.

Place the notched cap over the intersection, covering the screw. Glue it in place to the paint stirrers and the lower cap using strong glue.

Step 11: Make the Handles

Cut 5 1/2" off from each aluminum tube using the dremel cutting attachment. (Use safety glasses and a dust mask for this.)

Thread both of the electrical wires through one of the aluminum tubes.

Put the aluminum tubes onto a work table so that they overlap the table by about 7". Put your scrap wood on top of them and use the vise to hold them securely. The hat will have to be on the table as well because it's attached to the wires.

Pull and bend each of the tubes carefully (you really don't want to pinch the wires). When you are done bending you want them to be at a bit greater than a right angle. Work slowly and get the tubes to be at the same bent angle.

Step 12: Attach the Handles

(You might want a friend for this step.)

Take the handle with the wires in it and start gently pulling the wires through the tube, so the handle gets closer to the hat. Be really careful not to pull too hard or scrape the insulation off the wires as they go into the tube.

Attach both handles to the hat by putting the shorter ends of the handles into the space between the inner and outer tubes of the spools of thread you hollowed out. They should fit pretty snugly.

Put on the hat and stand in front of a mirror. Hold the ends of the handles at a comfortable angle from your body. After wearing it for awhile, I found it was most comfortable when my elbows were touching my sides. Either eyeball how far from vertical the handles are pushed, or have a friend with a handy-dandy smartphone with an angle-measuring app get the exact angle that you're pushing the handles in front of you. I found 17 degrees from vertical to be a good angle.

Stack some boxes on a low table and put the hat on top with the handles inserted. Either eyeball it or use the angle-ometer smartphone to get the handles rotated at the same angle (17 degrees or so) that was comfortable. Adjust the angle by inserting supports under the hat to make it higher from the ground, until the handles are at the correct angle. The handles should touch the ground.

Use a ruler to check that the handles are reasonably symmetrically placed. Mark on the ground with electrical tape where the ends of the handles are.

Use the hot glue gun to fill up one of the thread spools (in the space between the inner and outer tubes) with glue. Stick the handle into the spool as far as it will go, and make sure that the handle is at the correct angle you just figured out. Let it set, then do this on the other side. The side with the wires will be a bit finicky- have the handle very close to the spool but not inside when you fill it with glue, then smoosh the handle into the space all the way.

Go crazy with the hot glue and thoroughly glue all around the spool-handle attachment point, filling in any gaps. Hot glue the silver spray-painted cardboard donuts from earlier over the attachment point of the handles to hide the glue.

Step 13: Add the Switch

Take one of the bike grips and cut a 1.5" slit in one end. At the top of the slit cut a square hole big enough for your switch (see photo). Put the switch in from the slit end and pull the switch's wires through the bike grip.

Cut the hat's electrical wires so they extend about 1.5" out of the aluminum tube. Strip them 3/4" from the end. Make them into little hooks with your pliers, and do the same for the switch wires. Connect each switch wire hook to one hat wire hook and pinch securely with the pliers. Cover the exposed wires with electrical tape so that the two separate connections don't touch each other.

Push the aluminum tube into the bike grip, letting the wires either push into the tube or fold up inside the bike grip. Push the tube in as far as you can with the switch in the square hole you cut into the grip.

Use hot glue inside the top of the grip to secure it to the tube, and glue the slit closed as well to hold the switch in place.

Hot glue the other grip onto the other handle at the same height. Hot glue a bit of weight into the bottom of the grip opposite the switch side- I used 15 pennies. This will help the hat to balance evenly on your head by counterbalancing the weight of the switch and wires. You can glue a few pennies at a time and keep checking the balance of the hat until it's even.

Step 14: Add Padding to the Hat

Cut an oval of sticky-back felt big enough to fit snugly inside the top of the hat, and put it over the shoe polisher inside the hat.

Move outside to cut the fur- the fibers get all over the place.

Cut 1 piece of black faux fur about 5"x6", and two pieces 5"x4". Round the corners. Hot glue the large piece to the inside top of the front end of the hat (fur on the hat-side). Hot glue the other two pieces on top of the first piece at the front of the hat. This will help the hat to rest evenly and not tip forward, and also add comfort.

The black Inspector Gadget hair is optional, but if you decide against it you should still use fur padding around the perimeter of the hat just to make it fit more snugly (because the shoe polisher makes the hat sit higher on your head, it gets really loose).

Cut a piece of faux fur 20" long by 4" high. Orient it so the fur hangs in the short direction (so the fur points down if you hold the piece horizontally). Cut a curve from one side so the piece is 2" high at each end and 4" in the center. Attach the piece to the inside of the hat, fur facing out, with pins (pins pointed out!) and try on the hat. Adjust the "hair" until it looks right, then hot glue it to the hat. If you don't want the "hair" to show, trim it at the hat brim- it will still help hold the hat on your head.

Step 15: Put It All Together!

Open the battery flap in the hat and put in the batteries.

Get dressed in the Inspector Gadget clothing. Gently attach the helicopter to the shoe polisher in the hat. Put on the hat (you can tuck up your hair inside if it's long) and turn on the switch! You are now totally awesome.

Tip: Make sure you're clear of people and walls before you go go gadget copter.

If you're going to be in really crowded spaces the whole time you're in costume, you could try making the helicopter blades a few inches shorter to give you some extra clearance.
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