Build an airplane out of a pool noodle and some simple craft supplies! This fun activity for kids combines fun with STEM learning as kids explore the best possible airplane design.
There are two ways to approach this project. You can either copy our design, which we tested and which works. Or, let your kids experiment with the best way to make an airplane without showing them our designs first. The materials are cheap, so it won’t matter too much if they go through a few versions before landing on one that flies well! And it does make a fantastic experiment.
Our airplanes fly far enough to go across our back yard! They are fun to play catch with. A gentle throw makes the plane glide farther than a more vigorous throw, and you’ll want to make sure that you keep the nose up while releasing the plane.
We made two airplane versions. I photographed the instructions with the blue and green plane and then built the red and yellow one afterward. The red and yellow one flies farther, but the blue and green design seems like it’s a little more sturdy.
Here’s what you need to make one:
- A pool noodle – ours have a 2.5 inch diameter
- Cardboard from a cereal box
- Craft foam
- Hot glue
- Duct tape
- Coins for weight – we used nickels
Step 1: Start by cutting a 12 inch segment of pool noodle. A serrated knife works well for cutting them – it’s super easy. Try flying just the pool noodle and observe what happens. It… doesn’t fly. But it’s fun to observe this because it will really improve!
Step 2: Cut out the wing pieces. You’ll need two cardboard wings and two foam wings. All four should be exactly the same size. The purpose of the cardboard is to make the wings stiff enough to fly well. The cardboard is too thin, however, to be very sturdy when you glue it to the pool noodle. The foam adds more thickness for gluing purposes, but it doesn’t add much weight. Plus it looks cool!
Step 3: Use hot glue (or the glue of your choice) to attach the craft foam to the cardboard wing sections. Make sure that the wings are mirror images of each other.
Step 4: Hot glue the wings to the sides of the pool noodle. Use plenty of hot glue, and they will stick well. You’ll need to hold them in place for a few minutes while the glue cools.
Step 5: Once both wings are attached, try flying it. It will probably just make a loop when you throw it – not much control yet. Cut out a piece of craft foam to be the tail.
Step 6: To make the plane glide, you’ll need to balance it by adding some weight to the nose. We used two nickels. I ended up adding a third nickel later to one of our planes, but I can’t decide which is better – two or three. So you can experiment with that!
Step 7: Wrap the nickels in duct tape. This will allow you to be able to hot glue them inside the nose of the plane. Squirt some glue into the center of the pool noodle and attach the coins wrapped in duct tape.
The second design is constructed the same way. Both sets of wings have a layer of cardboard and then a layer of craft foam.
The tail adds stability to the plane as it glides through the air. My 11 year old commented that sharks’ fins keep them stable in the water in the same way, which I thought was an interesting connection!
Our planes haven’t broken yet, but if a wing comes off you can easily fix it with some hot glue. These are definitely not “forever toys,” but you’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of them!
Have fun experimenting with flight!
If you enjoyed this project, here are more to try!
How to Make a Pool Noodle Rocket Flinger – Another fun flying toy!
Build an Epic Bottle Rocket – this flew higher than our house!
Construct a Cardboard Box Hexbug Maze – this is a fantastic boredom buster.