The Rubber Band Airplane as been a favorite of mine since I was 6. It goes along with the Rubber Band Propeller Car. What really caught my eye was the amount of potential energy that can be stored in the rubber band. Simply wind it up and let ‘er go! I found it fascinating. There are many versions of this idea out there. Two of my favorites come from Science Toy Maker and Rubber Power (which is actually a link on the Science Toy Maker website as well).
Within the Rubber Band Airplane are numerous scientific principles. It covers lift, thrust, angle of attack, stabilization, Newton’s Third Law, potential energy and more…
Here is a picture of the plane at Science Toy Maker. We’ll be making one similar but not quite.
This plane is made of tissue paper, balsa wood and glue (essentially). The mechanics are created with a hook-nose propeller and a rubber band. (I’m still amazed at how well it flies).
Most of the design is fairly simple and cheap, and that’s why I love it! However, the most essential part is the hook-nose propeller. What’s neat about this propeller is that is will spin freely one way but catch the other. The catch is how we wind up the rubber band. When the rubber band has exerted all its force, the propeller can then spin freely allowing for a soft (at times) landing.
Now on to the Instructions!
Materials - for the Science Toy Maker plane
You could buy the Rubber Band Airplane Kit OR
- Balsa Wood – 1/16″ x 1/8″ x 36″
- Balsa Wood – 1/8″ x 3/8″ x 36″ (get super deal on Balsa here)
- 4 Flat Toothpicks – 3″
- Tissue Paper, any color – approx. 1 sq-ft
- Electrical Tape – approx 5 cm or 2″
- Rubber Band – 1/8″ wide
- Hook-Nose Propeller – 6″ Dia
- Paper Clip
- Glue Stick
- Hot/Cool Glue Gun (with ammo)
- Pattern, provided by Science Toy Maker
Wings – Tail – Stabilizer
- Using the pattern, cut out the two wing sections. Tape them together so that the two single lines meet and form one long wing. Cut out the tail and the stabilizer.
- Rough cut some tissue paper to cover the above cut-outs and tape it down (masking tape works well).
- Where we have two solid lines is where our 1/16″ x 1/8″ balsa wood will fit. Cut the balsa wood to fit into those section. Ensure all corners are fully filled in by the balsa wood.
- Use a glue stick to glue one side of the balsa wood (1/8″ wide side) and carefully place over areas marked by two lines. Repeat for tail and stabilizer.
- Once dry, remove the excess tissue paper on the outsides of the balsa wood (the closer it is, the less drag you’ll have). If you need to, use the glue stick to secure any flappers you might have.
Body & Propeller
- Cut the 1/8″ x 3/8″ balsa wood to 12″.
- Mount the Hook-Nose Propeller to one end of the balsa wood (you may need to flatten the corners to make it slide in easier).
- Approximately 8″ down from the propeller press a 1″ piece of paperclip into the same side as the loop of your propeller. Use a hot glue gun to secure it. Bend it back away from the propeller slightly and secure that angle with hot glue.
- Attache the rubber band to the propeller loop and then to the bent paperclip (This is the motor!!).
- You can now test the propeller to make sure you have enough tension on the rubber band. Wind it up approximately 20 revolutions (this amount every time you test the propeller and for flight).
Fitting the Wing to the Body
- This is probably the most tricky part. We need to bend the wind in half without breaking the balsa wood completely. Measure to the center of the wing (tissue paper side down) and press your thumb nail on that mark to make a noticeable dent. This will help score the wood to ensure it breaks there. Gently bend the balsa wood so that there is a valley on the tissue paper side. Be sure not to break the wood apart. Only enough so that it is still together but creates a V shape.
- Cut a piece of 1/16″ x 1/8″ balsa wood 4″ long.
- With the tissue paper side down, place a heavy object at both ends so that there is a 3″ tall mountain. Hot glue the 4″ piece of balsa wood to that peak so that there is an even amount of overlap on both sides.
- Hot glue the toothpicks vertically to that 4″ balsa, two on each side, right next to the wing. Use the hot glue liberally. Make sure they stay perfectly vertical while drying.
- Cut 2 pieces of electrical tape 1″ long. Then cut those two in half lengthwise. You should have 4 pieces that are 1″ x 3/8″ approx.
- Measure 2-1/2″ to 3″ from the front of the balsa wood body and make a mark. Place the front wing toothpick to that mark and tape both sides with the 2 pieces of the electrical tape. Make sure the bottom of the toothpick matches perfectly with the bottom of the balsa body.
- Tape the back toothpicks so that there is approx. 3/8″ sticking out below the balsa body and tape using the last two pieces of electrical tape. (We’ll be able to adjust the wings angle of attack by adjusting this distance.
Tail and Stabilizer to the Body
- Mark the center of the tail and hot glue the stabilizer (the two ends that aren’t currently fixed) to that center. Make sure there are no ruffles in the tissue paper (pull it taut).
- Now hot glue the tale and stabilizer to the rear end of the balsa body. Make sure the tail doesn’t stick out any further than the body (make it flush).