I’ve always had a fascination with airplanes. I remember making all sorts of paper and cardboard airplanes when I was a kid though most of them did not exactly fly as well as I hoped. I wish I had known about these pool noodle airplanes back then because these things fly really well!
We had a stack of old pool noodles sitting in the garage that I wanted to do something with, so, why not build airplanes? Airplanes are a really interesting engineering project for kids. Experimenting with different wing shapes and sizes, tail configurations, wing angles, weights, and materials can lead to a lot of interesting lessons.
These planes use very cheap and easy to find materials. The pool noodles made the “fuselage” of our airplanes. Pool noodles are very light so they work quite well for this. For the wings and tail we used foam board. I really like working with this stuff. Our local dollar store sells large sheets of it making it very inexpensive to experiment with. It’s light, rigid, durable and sticks very well with hot glue. The only downside is that it does require a sharp knife to cut effectively. If your knife isn’t sharp enough it will still cut but your edges will not be smooth. Using an Xacto knife or sharp utility knife will work the best.
We ended trying two different designs, a “Delta Wing” and a “Swept Wing”. A delta wing is a design where the wings form a triangle. The delta wing design was very easy to build and ended up being a lot stronger and a more stable of design. Since there was more surface of the wing touching the pool noodle fuselage the wings were much stronger than our swept wing plane. We used hot glue to attach our foam wings to the pool noodle. These two materials glue really well together with hot glue and since it drys so quickly there isn’t a lot of time to wait to test out your design. The swept wing plane ended up being a bit too heavy as we had to reinforce the wings to make sure they were strong enough.
We originally tried our planes without a nose cone but found that they did not fly very well. I think ((I’m not an aerospace engineer!) that this was because of a combination of poor aerodynamics and the fact that the planes were a bit tail heavy. We made quick nose cones by rolling up paper into a cone shape and gluing them to the front of the airplanes. This made a huge difference! The swept wing design still needed additional weight added to the front but the delta wing flew extremely well!
I was really surprised at how well the planes flew, especially the delta wing design. The awesome thing about building these planes is since the materials is so cheap you can experiment with all sorts of different designs. Go ahead and try your own designs, follow what we did, or find other airplane designs that you like and try to emulate them. Most of all, have fun!