Paper Plane Engine

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About: Artist. Musician. Teacher.

This paper plane "engine" is a quick and easy way to improve the travel distance and speed of nearly all models of paper airplanes. This paper plane engine harnesses the power of a rubber band as a means of propulsion. The great thing about this paper plane engine is how modular it is. As it is a self-contained unit, it can be easily inserted into various paper airplane designs, making it an excellent prototyping tool for testing out new designs. This project can be scaled to a classroom setting as the few materials required are very inexpensive and can be purchased in bulk.

Supplies:

  • Tongue Depressors
  • Large Rubber Bands
  • Hole Punch
  • Small Binder or Bulldog Clip

Optional:

  • Masking Tape
  • Paper or Thin Cardstock
  • Pencil

Teacher Notes

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Step 1: Preparing the Engine

First, pierce a hole in one end of a tongue depressor about an 1/8’’ from its edge using a hole punch. This hole can be reinforced by hot gluing washers around it or by layering multiple holey tongue depressors together. I’ve found that there is rarely a need for reinforcement unless the nose of the aircraft collides repeatedly against a hard surface (wall).

Thread a large rubber band through the hole in the tongue depressor and loop it back through itself before pulling it tight. This should attach the rubber band to the tongue depressor. If desired, multiple rubber bands can be attached together in this way to offer more resistance.

Engine complete!

Step 2: Fold Your Paper Planes and Scout the Perfect Location

Use sheets of paper or thin cardstock to create various paper plane designs, peruse instructables.com for inspiration! I chose to stick with a classic design but don't be afraid to experiment! Once you have enough planes to fill a hanger, head to an uncrowded area that, ideally, is large and out of the wind. A gymnasium or similar space is a perfect location for these flight tests.

Step 3: Insert the Engine Into a Paper Plane

Insert the paper plane engine into one of the paper plane designs and hold it in place with a small bulldog clip. If you’re worried about it coming loose, you can add some masking tape to secure it. Proceed to remove the legs of the bulldog clip by squeezing them inward.

Step 4: Flight Test!

With your back against a wall, make sure that there is no living creature in front of you. When the cost is clear, hold the end of the rubber band in your dominant hand and the fuselage of the paper plane in your non dominant hand. With your dominant hand outstretched in front of you, pull back on the fuselage of the paper plane with your other hand. Take aim with your dominant hand, making sure to raise it slightly higher than your line of vision. When ready, release the fuselage of the paper plane and watch it fly!

If you find it difficult to master firing the plane safely, hook the elastic around a pencil and follow the same launch sequence. This is the method I suggest if attempting this project with young children.

Step 5: Final Thoughts

Embellish or decorate the winning plane designs and see how it affects their flights. Different challenges include furthest flight distance, highest climb, fastest plane, number of loops, longest flight time, etc. This project can be used to teach simple physics concepts!

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