Gyro Flyer

About: More than 14 pulsating exhibits make the Children's Museum of Houston one of the top rated in the country. Packed with daily activities and invigorating performances, it’s the place where minds come out to ...

Make a cylindrical paper airplane!

This is one of the 48 projects for our Instructables: Made In Your Mind (IMIYM) exhibition at the Children’s Museum of Houston showing from May 26, 2012 - November 4, 2012. Produced in partnership with Instructables, IMIYM is an exhibit where families work together to build different fun, toy-like projects that help construct knowledge and skills related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics while instilling a “do-it-yourself” attitude in kids so they feel empowered to explore, tinker, and try to make things themselves. To learn more, check out the article here.

For this project, we've taken an Instructable created by someone else and modified it for use in the Museum. This specific project is based on the Flying Gyroscope Out of a Single Piece of Paper project by mspark400, but there may be others on Instructables that are also similar. Often, the materials and process for building our projects are designed for use with a large number of visitors (we see over 800,000 annually) and the need to ensure safety in a mostly non-facilitated environment. So, yes, many of these projects have room for improvement in both materials and methodology, which is PRECISELY what we want to encourage the kids to do. So please do share your ideas for improvement and modifications!

Step 1: What You Need

We are selective in our materials for cost, ease of use, and safety due to our high traffic (800,000 visitors annually). So, for our purposes, this design worked best. But you may have other ideas - please share!

1 - 8½” x 11” sheet of paper
Masking Tape

Step 2: The Video

We offer optional video segments of each step for this project in the actual exhibit. Here is a compilation of all the steps.

Step 3: Step 1

Lay the piece of paper landscape (horizontal) on a flat surface. Fold the top edge of the paper to the bottom edge and unfold to create a crease.

Step 4: Step 2

Fold the top edge of the paper to the crease.

Step 5: Step 3

Fold along the crease.

Step 6: Step 4

Fold the current top edge to the bottom of the folded part of the paper (basically, fold the folded part in half).

Step 7: Step 5

Roll the paper, sliding the edge of the left side of the ring into the slot on the inside of the right side of the ring. Tape it shut along the seam.

Step 8: How to Throw It

To throw it: hold it in your hand with the thicker edge forward and toss it like a football, using your fingers to give the paper a spin as you throw it. The video shows it a little better.

The Gyro Flyer is a simplified (and much cheaper) version of the X-Zylo toy. In both cases, they use both aerodynamics and gyroscopic motion to fly. Much like a plane’s wing, the front of the Gyro Flyer is thicker than the back end. This causes the air as it flows over and through the Gyro Flyer to provide lift, or push it slightly up. The gyroscopic motion is created by the spinning of the tube. Much like a spinning top doesn’t fall over, the spinning of the tube keeps the front end aimed forward and prevents gravity from flipping it or losing its angle of attack through the air as fast as a normal paper airplane, which is why it can fly so well.

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    38 Discussions


    1 year ago

    Very good glider. Simple and easy.


    2 years ago

    hii I made it, and was flying very amazingly. I know it can be made using cans, bottles,etc.but this paper version is also not bad.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I also created a version of this aircraft because I don't like using tape.
    If anyone doesn't like taping, checking my instructional video.

    Link here:


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I've made cylindrical airplanes out of aluminum cans.
    You cut it in half, using the top part only. Then, take a can opener and cut of the top of your can. Mine fly really well.

    2 replies

    7 years ago on Introduction

    If you go through almost the same folding procedure, but cornerwise on a square sheet of paper, you can make a circular glider does doesn't require spin for stability -- a crease that winds up on the inside bottom produces and effective elevator, and the concentration of mass at the center of the folded portion (due to the corner landing in the middle) lowers the center of mass enough for the shape to provide dihedral stability. The resulting glider flies very well and is much easier to throw (especially for children and the sport-challenged) than this model -- flow from a high place, it can glide for blocks.

    4 replies

    Nope, but I could probably make one fairly promptly. It's only been about twenty years since I folded one. Let me shoot a few photos and see what I can come up with.


    This is a great instructable so I hope I'm not raining on the parade too much by saying it can't be flying because of the lift effect of the air going over the wing. It is symetrical so any lift on one bit of the thing would be matched by the exact opposite lift from the bit the opposite side that is the other way up.

    I suspect the folding is needed to give the paper enough strength so you can throw it. Just a cylinder of paper with no folding would be really hard to throw or give spin to.

    4 replies

    That's what I was thinking as well. I agree that the weight at the front is key to giving it suffient concentrated mass and to help with the gyroscopic motion that helps keep it level. However, there is definitely some lift being generated, as it definitely flies further than if a similar force were applied to just a piece of paper and I suspect the shape and the motion of the shape through the air are a cause of the lift. I am unsure of the actual mechanics (which is why I was vague about it) as I am having trouble finding a simple explanation for why it has lift.

    When I looked up resources online to try to get some more info about why it (or the X-ylo toy) fly, I found this thread on the physics forums with some speculation that matched my own:

    The X-zlo creators' website ( claims there is no concensus on how it works.

    While looking up the above website links, I just spotted a book by David Landon Tarr called "What Makes the Amazing X-zylo Fly" ( which, based on the Amazon preview, reads at times more like his opinion, but in reading the preview, some of the physics being discussed are a bit beyond my ability to understand at the quick glance, so that may be a resource to explore the physcis more deeply.

    Hope that helps! If anyone has read the book and can provide a better explanation, I'd really appreciate it!

    I have actually studied this kind of wing before with one of my aerospace engineering classes. It actually does create lift directly from the wing, and the symmetry actually contributes to the lift.

    Where you are probably being confused is most wings have an asymmetric airfoil. This means that the plane prefers to fly right side up, and while it can generate lift upside down, it is usually not efficient and can stall easily.  Typically airfoil asymmetry is used to increase the "flat plate lift approximation" in lager airplanes. The flat plate lift approximation is basically the idea that if the wing gets small enough there is little difference between a flat plate and an airfoil. This is why most paper planes work at all.

    An aerobatic planes wing is symmetric in that it looks the same upside down. It relies on the "angle of attack" to create lift. The angle of attack is the angle between the oncoming air and the "chord" (an imaginary line that runs from the leading edge to trailing edge).

    Because of the symmetry, both the top of the circle and the bottom of the circle create lift the same way a biplanes wings do, and the sides of the circle function as rudders.

    Your foil acts like a symmetric foil. The folding you did only increased the stiffness of the leading edge and provided a convenient way to create the loop. Without it, it would be a very flexible (and unstable) structure that wouldn't fly far.

    There have actually been some planes in history that have used this shape of wing successfully, although they never made it to production. Among them is the french Coloeptere

    By spinning the structure you are invoking precession. Precession is what keeps your wing from immediately stalling and falling (think gyroscope). It also helps the wing keep its circular geometry as it flies. Modern intercontinental missiles also spin to take advantage of the same effect. 

    Hope this explanation helps.  I used technically correct jargon in places so if a term is unfamiliar you should be able to "Wikipedia" it.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Excellent little project, flies surprisingly well and no sharp edges in front - great!

    1 reply