How to Make a Rubber Band Powered Ornithopter

by Patti Richards Google
Ornithopters imitate the action and physical properties of a bird in flight.

Ornithopters imitate the action and physical properties of a bird in flight. Images

An ornithopter is a plane that has wings that flap like a bird. Some of the first ornithopter sketches found were done by Leonardo da Vinci, although he never actually built one. The first manned flight of an ornithopter happened in 1942. This ornithopter was invented by Adalbert Schmid, and his ornithopter traveled a distance of 900 meters at a height of 20 meters above the ground in an area near Munich. The plans for this small version of an ornithopter are based on early designs.

Items you will need

  • 1 sheet (16-by-20-inch) of model airplane tissue
  • Scissors
  • 2 8-inch pieces of 1/8-inch square balsa wood
  • 3 7-inch pieces of 3/32-inch square balsa wood
  • 1 5-inch piece of 1/8 x 3/32-inch piece of balsa wood
  • 1 5-inch piece of 1/8 x 5/16-inch piece of balsa wood
  • 1 1-3/8-inch of 1/8 x 1/2-inch balsa wood
  • 1/32-inch steel music wire
  • 1/16-inch aluminum tubing
  • Plastic tubing from a 22 gauge wire
  • Model airplane glue
  • Hobby knife or razor blade
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Rubber band
Step 1

Trace the wings and tail section of the ornithopter by laying out the sheet of model airplane tissue and drawing a half-moon shape. Use the long edge of the tissue, making the bottom portion of the wings 16 inches long. The wings should take up almost the entire width of the paper. Trace the tail section by using the other long edge of the paper left over in the corner after drawing the wings. The tail should be a pie shape, with the two sides measuring 6 inches. Cut out each piece.

Step 2

Glue one of the aluminum tubes to the ½-inch piece of balsa wood so that the two pieces are parallel.

Step 3

Take two of the 7-inch balsa wood pieces and glue them together for the body, one on top of the other. Cut the other 7-inch piece of balsa wood and glue into a 45 degree angle for the tail.

Step 4

Bend the 2-inch wire pieces with the wire pliers to make two wing levers. The wing levers will look like small cranks, with three sections and two right angles.

Step 5

Glue the tissue wings and tail to the 8-inch pieces of balsa wood and the tail section.

Step 6

Attach the front motor crank to the wings by poking a small pilot hole in both ends of each piece of 5-inch balsa wood. Insert one of the crank ends through one of the holes in each piece. Attach the other ends of the balsa wood to each wing by slipping the holes you made over two small pieces of music wire glued to the front of the wings.

Step 7

Cap the ends of the wire by gluing a small piece of plastic tubing to the ends of each piece. This is now your front crank mechanism.

Step 8

Glue the wings and tail to the body and let them dry thoroughly.

Step 9

Attach the second crank wire to the back of the ornithopter, just in front of the tail. Do this by poking a small guide hole through the balsa wood body in front of the tail and inserting the crank wire up through from the bottom. Add a little glue to the inside of the hole to keep it from slipping and let dry.

Step 10

Cut the rubber band so that it is one long strip. Poke one end of the rubber band through the front crank shaft and then tie off the end so it won’t slip off. Attach the other end of the rubber band to the back crank shaft the same way.

Step 11

Crank the rubber band by moving the front crank shaft around until the rubber band is wound several times. Let the ornithopter go and watch the wings go up and down as it flies.

About the Author

Patti Richards has been a writer since 1990. She writes children’s books and articles on parenting, women's health and education. Her credits include San Diego Family Magazine, Metro Parent Magazine, Boys' Quest Magazine and many others. Richards has a Bachelor of Science in English/secondary education from Welch College.

Photo Credits

  • Images