I've always experimented with simple foam gliders made out of household materials, but I've never had as much success as I did with these fun little gliders made from foam picnic plates. With just a few easily-accessible materials that you probably already have around the house, you can make several of these and have all kinds of fun.
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
Here's what you'll need to make a glider:
3x 9" foam picnic plates
2 drinking straws (bendy or not)
Pair of scissors
Hot glue gun & glue sticks
Scrap sheet of paper (if you plan on making more than 1 glider)
Small screw (specifics later on)
An option that has no bearing on the flight of the glider is permanent markers for decorating.
Step 2: Preparing the Fuselage
The fuselage, or body, of the glider is simply 2 straws. If you have bendy straws, you'll need to cut off the part that bends (on both of the straws), leaving a smooth, straight section of the straw. If you have regular, straight straws, leave them alone. Here's what you do after that:
1. Press and pinch the end of 1 straw to make the end crimped, like shown.
2. Insert the crimped end of that straw into the normal end of the other, and keep pushing until they measure 9 inches long on your ruler (if you happen to have a straw that's 9 inches by itself, skip this step).
*You can always put some glue into the straws before pushing them together if you want them to hold better.
3. To prepare the fuselage for mounting the tail and wings, mark a line with your pen at 1 1/4 inches, 3 1/2 inches, and 5 5/8 inches from the end. Then, make a mark (I used Xs) between the end and the 1 1/4 inch mark, and between the 3 1/2 and the 5 5/8 inch mark, as the picture demonstrates.
The fuselage is now done, so set it aside and move on to the next step.
Step 3: Cutting the Plates
I've made some basic plans for the shapes you need to cut out of the plates, but you do not in any way have to follow each dimension exactly. The reason my numbers are so precise is that I built and tested my first glider without using any set dimensions, and then measured it to make my plans for this Instructable. I provided the numbers so you can make a glider exactly like mine, which I know performs great. I'm sure the glider will fly just fine if you change up the dimensions to more convenient numbers.
1. Cut out the flat part of the plates. You won't need the rims for this project.
2. Use your ruler and pen to measure and draw out the shapes as shown in the pictures. You can just eyeball the curves, but even if that scares you, just leave them out! Square corners don't affect much other than aesthetics. If you want to build more than 1 glider, I would recommend measuring out the plans on the piece of paper, cutting them out, and tracing them onto the plates for each glider. For this Instructable, I just drew them right onto the plates.
3. Cut out the pieces as neatly as you can.
4. To get better flight characteristics out of the glider, the wings should be completely alike. Hold the 2 wing halves on top of each other and trim them so they are completely identical. It doesn't matter if they're different from the plans as long as they are the same as each other.
5. This step is optional, but you can decorate the pieces with marker if you want. It's a lot easier to decorate them while they're flat on the table than when they're glued together on the finished plane. I just used a red and black marker for this particular glider.
Step 4: Gluing the Pieces
For this step, you will be gluing the 2 wing halves together and gluing the horizontal and vertical stabilizers together.
1. To make the wing, put a bead of glue on the edge of 1 wing half, as shown, and press the two together. Before the glue dries, hold the dihedral gauge in place so the the point of it is in the middle of the 2 pieces, and hold it there until the glue is dry. Pull the dihedral gauge off; you won't need it again. You can also go over the joint with another bead of glue on top to strengthen it (7th picture).
2. For the tail assembly, put a bead of glue, roughly down the center, of the horizontal stabilizer. Stick the vertical stabilizer onto it and try to keep them perpendicular to each other until the glue is dry.
Step 5: Glider Assembly
If you aren't precise with this step, your glider will probably have some issues while flying, like turning to one side. So, be careful while gluing.
1. Put a thick bead of glue onto the marked end of the straw (refer to 2nd and 3rd pictures), and then put the stabilizers onto the straw. Try to get everything even and precise.
2. Put another thick bead of glue onto the other marked section of the straw (6th picture), and place the wing onto it. When you look at the glider head-on like in the 7th picture, the wings should be straight, even, and not leaning to one side or the other.
Once you're sure everything's exact and secure, you're ready to add the weight.
Step 6: Adding the Weight
Without weight, this glider has no chance of flying, but with too much weight, you might as well be throwing a stick. It's kind of tricky to find the right balance between the two. What works for me is a small screw that I think comes from the back of some electronic toy or something. I gave you a picture of the screw next to the glider so you can see how big it is; it's around 3/4 of an inch long, and the head is just big enough to not slip down the straw. I just glued it in the nose and it worked well.
You don't have to use a screw for weight. You can always use small washers, or the right sized paperclip, or even staples. I would suggest taping your experimental weight onto the nose before gluing, so you can add or remove weight as needed until it flies just right (I'll explain in the next step what "just right" is). You could also pump hot glue into the tip of the straw, but that's harder to undo if you mess up.
You may have noticed that there is a lot of distance between the leading edge of the wing and the nose of the glider, and I made it like that on purpose. Think of a lever. If you have a really short lever, it will take quite a bit of force to push it down toward the ground. If you have a long lever, not much force is required to push it down. The nose of the glider is the lever, and since it's fairly long, not much weight is needed to keep the nose from lifting up, which can cause the glider to stall.
Step 7: Throwing Your Glider
As you're trying to get the weight right for your glider, continually do test throws and pay attention to the way your glider flies so you can get it right. Here's some tips:
1. The glider performs best when it is thrown horizontal and level with moderate force (don't chuck it as hard as you can, but don't let it just drop out of your hand). I like holding the straw underneath the wing when throwing it, but whatever feels comfortable for you will probably work. If the weight is right, it should remain horizontal in the air and very slowly lose altitude as it flies forward.
2. If you're throwing your glider like outlined above and the nose pitches up into the air (stall) and then the glider plummets to the ground, you need to add more weight.
3. If you're throwing the glider correctly and it just curves downward to the ground and you don't get long flights out of it, you probably need to get rid of some of the weight until it can keep itself in the air.
With a pretty easy toss, I can easily get these gliders to go 50 feet indoors before hitting a wall (that's using the glider's abilities, not just the strength of my arm).
I included a video that can be downloaded (sorry for not putting it on YouTube) of three throws of the green glider. Yes, it is terrible quality, but I did what I could.
Step 8: An Optional but Useful Addition
If you want to protect the walls of your house and offer some padding for the nose of your glider, this step is helpful. I doubt a small metal screw in the nose of a light glider will do much damage to a wall (unless MAYBE you throw it hard at point-blank), but I put this step in anyway.
1. Out of a scrap of foam, cut out two small circles and a rectangle as shown. Glue the circles onto the nose of your glider, and wrap (and glue) the rectangle around the base of those circles. If the rectangle is too long, trim it to fit the circumference of the straw. If it's too short, it works to add a tiny square of foam to make up the difference.
You now have all the steps needed for a complete and functional glider, but the next step has some extra things you can do with more than one.
Step 9: Variations
1. You can overlap one wing of each plane (1st picture) to get a double-bodied glider that still flies great (you just need to throw it a little harder), and just temporarily secure them with tape.
2. You can experiment with front-to-back chains of 2 or more gliders (2nd picture). The nose of the glider in back goes under the fuselage of the one in front, and can be secured with tape also.
Both of these variations show some of the same flight characteristics of the individual glider, but have their own quirks as well. Experiment with them and see what you can do!
Thanks for taking a look at my Instructable!