The Cardboard Air Force

Introduction: The Cardboard Air Force

When I was a kid my grandpa used to buy me these cheap styrofoam gliders as a way to try to develop a love of avionics in me. For some reason the gliders were more fun than paper airplanes but they would inevitably break the first or second time I played with them. Skip ahead 25 years. I was recently in a shop and saw some of these gliders. For a half a second I thought about buying one for my son. Then I remembered the durability issues and decided it would be more economical and practical to build my own glider.

This instructable will teach you how to build a simple glider. I will also attempt to show the results of a slightly more elaborate build for a biplane and a helicopter.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: The Materials

I wanted this build to cost less than the cheap, easily breakable styrofoam  store-bought gliders. Since those cost about $1 that meant I was going to be using materials I already had at home.

1. Cardboard (I used a pizza box because my son is 2 and has small fingers. For performance the thinner cardboard of a cereal box would work better)
2. A writing utensil (Sharpie for me, please)
3. A cutting implement (I used scissors because my son wanted to help. An exacto knife would have given cleaner results)
4. A keyring ring (a paper clip would also work)

That was all that was necessary to make the basic glider. The slightly more advanced, and I use the term lightly, builds of the helicopters and the biplane also required the following.

5. Toothpicks
6. Hot Glue Gun
7. Hot Glue Sticks

Step 2: The Design

The design aspect of this build consisted entirely of me sketching the basic shape of the fuselage and two wings onto the pizza box. I also made a note of where I was going to cut slots to insert the wings through the fuselage. I did all of this freehand. I probably should have used a ruler to make sure all the lines were symmetrical. It should also be noted the glider I made is about 2.5 times the size of the store-bought gliders. Again, this was to make it easier for my small child to play with.

Step 3: Cut Out and Assembly

For this step I used the scissors to cut out the glider pieces. As noted previously, an exacto knife would have given cleaner results. Then I assembled the pieces by pushing them through the slots. Finally, I added the keyring ring for nose ballast. This prevents the glider from tumbling end over end during flight. I was originally planning on using a paper clip but forgot to grab one before I sat down and I had the keyring ring and it worked so I left it.

Step 4: Final Thoughts on the Glider

The total build time on the Glider was less than 10 minutes and it cost nothing since I had all of the materials already. The thicker cardboard has kept it in tact for 2 weeks of regular play by my toddler. The performance is not as great as it could be. It glides about 5-10 feet before landing. As my boy gets older I will probably revisit this with cereal box cardboard because the lighter weight should improve flight distance.

Step 5: The It Rest of the Cardboard Air Force

I noticed my son was more often playing with the glider by carrying it than by throwing it. With this in mind I decided to make a few more toys specifically suited for that. Now, if I was half the carpenter my dad is I would have used wood because it's more durable. Since I'm not I turned to cardboard again. I did not take detailed WIP photos of these but I will do my best to describe the process. If you have any questions, ask in the comments and I'll do my to clarify things.

Essentially, the design step was the same. I drew a design on the cardboard and then I cut it out. On the second helicopter and the biplane I ended up cutting the fuselages 3 times and then sandwiching them together with hot glue for more strength. The first helicopter just saw me going back and re-enforcing key sections (the tail, the rotor pivot point, and the skids with additional cardboard and hot glue.

To make the rotors and the propeller I stuck a toothpick into the fuselage at the pivot point for the moving blades. It was hot glued into place and then a small cardboard square was impaled on it and glued into place. This was essentially to make it so the blades had more of a contact point with the fuselage for added support and since I hot glued from below to ensure no glue would get on the rotors and cause them to stick. Next I hot glued 2 long, thin pieces of cardboard into a cross formation. This was then impaled on the toothpick as close to the the center point as possible. Another tiny square of cardboard was impaled on the toothpick over the rotor blades. The toothpick was then cut down to stick out just above the last cardboard square. And finally I finished this off by putting a glob of hot glue on the end of toothpick. This was for safety reasons. The result was a firmly fixed toothpick pole with a pair of rotor blades that could be freely rotated by hand. 

And with that method I was able to create a helicopter and a biplane that are durable enough to be played with and cheap and easy enough to make that if my toddler should break them it's no loss at all. The final cost on this build came up to a whopping $0 since I already had everything I needed. These took a little more work than the original glider but still it was only about 20 minutes for each one.

My final thought on these is that the next time we need to add aircraft to our air force I will let my son color or paint these (after I draw the fuselage but before I cut them out) so he can be a little more involved.

Cardboard and Duct Tape Contest

Participated in the
Cardboard and Duct Tape Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Toys and Games Challenge

      Toys and Games Challenge
    • Backyard Contest

      Backyard Contest
    • Silly Hats Speed Challenge

      Silly Hats Speed Challenge