Up, Up, and Away: DIY Balloon-Powered Helicopter Fun!

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Is your child interested in helicopters and all things that fly? This is going to be a fun engineering experiment for them!

This balloon-powered helicopter teaches kids about fundamental physics and engineering concepts like energy, lift, and basic aerodynamics while playing with making their helicopter fly. This experiment walks through the science and engineering while learning through play.

Ready for flight? Let’s go!

How to make the Up, Up, and Away Balloon Helicopter engineering experiment

Supplies you will need

For this experiment, you will need the following:

If you want to add in a book about what makes helicopters fly (and other cool info about helicopters), check out this bookOpens in a new tab.!

Before you start

Please be careful when drilling holes into the cap!

Instructions

Here is how to do this experiment with your child:

Step 1: Cut the paper for the helicopter blades

We are making three helicopter blades and using one bendy straw for each blade.

First, bend all of your straws 90 degrees to prepare for drawing the blades on the paper.

Next, place your bended straw on top of the paper you are using. Leaving the straw exposed at the two ends, trace around the straw, leaving around 2 inches of padding. Cut out what you drew and repeat this for the other two straws.

Turn three bendy straws to a 90-degree angle
Trace around the straw on the paper with about 1-2″ of padding, leaving both straw ends about an inch outside of the paper
How the cut paper looks against the straw
Three cut pieces of paper and three bendy straws

Step 2: Glue straws to each paper blade

Now, glue the straws to the paper blades, placing the straw along the top edge of the paper.

Note: I tried using a glue stick first, but the straws did not stick to the paper. The hot glue gun did the trick.

Be sure that there are exposed pieces of straw at both ends of the straw.

Adding a line of hot glue along the outer edge of the cut paper
Press straw on the line of hot glue
Three blades completed

Step 3: Cut three holes in the cap and place straws in

Using your drill, cut three holes in the cap that are equidistant from one another. These holes should be about the same size as your straws so the straws can fit inside the holes but do not have a large gap (if there is, you could always add some glue around the straw to close the gap).

Please be careful cutting the holes in the cap!

Three holes cut into the cap, equidistant from one another
Ensure that each hole is large enough to place the straw in without a large gap
Helicopter blades inserted into cap

Step 4: Inflate balloon, place on cap, and FLY!

Blow up your balloon and attach the neck of the balloon to the bottom of the cap.

Toss the helicopter up and let it fly!

If it doesn’t fly, here are a few troubleshooting checks you can do:

  • Is the balloon on the bottom of the cap fully?
  • Are the paper blades too heavy for the helicopter (it might flip so the blades are below the balloon in this case)?
  • Are there any gaps where the straws were inserted?
  • Play with the angle of the blades to see if it helps it fly

The engineering behind the Up, Up, and Away Balloon Helicopter experiment

This experiment teaches:

  • Engineering concepts
  • Physics
  • Trial and error

How it works

This balloon-powered helicopter is a great way to teach about aerodynamics and energy.

When the balloon is inflated, we are building potential energy in our helicopter. When the balloon is allowed to be released into the cap and flow through the straws, that potential energy switches to kinetic energy, propelling the blades and causing our helicopter to fly.

The rotor blades, made from paper and attached to straws, catch the moving air, creating lift and propelling the helicopter upward. The design of the rotor blades and their attachment to the straws allows for efficient airflow, demonstrating basic aerodynamic principles.

Engineering concepts

Children can explore basic engineering design concepts like stability, balance, and structural integrity as they design and build the helicopter (or watch the helicopter fly once you’ve built it).

The experiment also demonstrates how air flows around the rotor blades, creating lift and causing the helicopter to spin. If the blades are turned in a less optimal way, our helicopter will struggle to fly.

This introduces the basic principles of aerodynamics, which engineers use to design and optimize flying vehicles.

Physics

Children learn about the forces involved in flight. The escaping air from the balloon exerts a force on the rotor blades, causing them to rotate. This showcases Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The experiment also illustrates how the potential energy stored in the inflated balloon is converted into kinetic energy as the air escapes, causing the blades to rotate. This concept is fundamental in physics and engineering, where designers aim to efficiently convert one form of energy into another.

Trial and error

There may be some roadblocks when you’re trying to get your helicopter to fly.

If the helicopter doesn’t work perfectly on the first try, it’s an opportunity for your child to learn from their mistakes, make adjustments, and test again. Don’t give up!

More engineering experiments that ZOOM to try out with your child

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