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STEMingBoredom 26: engineer your own helicopter

Helicopters are, when you think about it, pretty amazing; they fly on the movement of 2,3,4 or 5 thin blades only. They are also the only (civilian) aircraft that can hover, fly sideways or backwards. They are one of the symbols of being important too – pop stars, prime ministers, billionaires and emergency services use them a lot.

Unfortunately for most of us, they are far too expensive to own – at least at the moment. The day may come when personal helicopters are as common as mobile phones, but until that time, we’ll have to dream of owning one.

But we could make one...

How to do it:

The theory of how helicopters fly has been with us for millions of years. The sycamore tree ensures that it survives by distributing its seeds with helicopter-like seed pods. We are going to engineer something that works in exactly the same manner!

You’ll need:

A4 paper
Paper clips
A ruler

Using the picture as a reference, first do some cutting and folding. The solid lines are to be cut down the whole length of the line. Dotted lines however are only to be folded.

A full piece of A4 paper won’t work very well – it will be too wide. A piece half, or three quarters of the width of an A4 sheet will work much better.

Once you’ve cut out a piece of paper, and cut that along the solid lines, it’s time to fold. Fold A towards you, and B away from you. These are the rotors.

Fold C and D over each other so that they overlap. This will form the fuselage. Fold the bottom up so that a thick piece of paper is at the bottom and you can attach the paperclip.

Aircraft ready for take off!

Holding the helicopter by the paperclip, throw it as high as you can, as you would throw a tennis ball. It should gently, and under control, spin itself to the ground!

Extension task:

By folding up, and cutting to different sizes, what is the smallest width of rotor (sections A " B) that can stop your helicopter falling to the ground without spinning?

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