First Flights Flyer Instructions

The First Flights Flyer is a low cost, easy to build, robust conventional balsa glider that flies well.   This glider is meant to be an alternative to the Fantastic Flyer in that it has a more conventional configuration.   Also, this glider is meant to be modular in that it is easy to try changes to the design to see what effect it has (i.e. what if the wing is a different width / length, what if the tail surfaces were a different size, what if the nose tube was shorter, etc.).   The cost of this project is minimized by maximizing the number of pieces that can be made from standard sizes of balsa and the templates and jig are easily made from low cost materials.

To build this glider, one will need the materials shown on the Bill of Materials. Here you can download and print the PDF files for the Bill of Materials, the Dimensions and the Templates.

Bill of Materials Dimensions Templates

Potential sources for these materials are:

The following tools and supplies will be needed:

Recommended Build Order (i.e. make the parts that take the longest to dry first)

  1. Wing
    • a. Trace the radius on the ends of the wing using the Wing Tip template and a gel pen.
    • b. Using a ruler, make a mark 2 inches in from both wing tips.   Using the straight end of the Wing Tip template, draw a perpendicular line at each mark across the wing with a gel pen.
    • c. Using a ruler, find the middle of the wing.   Using the straight end of the Wing Tip template draw a perpendicular line at the middle of the wing with a gel pen.
    • d. Using a scissors, cut just outside of the line that has been traced.
    • e. Using the sanding block, sand off the excess balsa (i.e. the balsa that remains outside of the contour that was traced).
    • f. As shown in the picture at right, place the wing on a table with the outboard 2 inches hanging over the edge of the table.   Align the straight edge of the Wing Tip jig with the line that has been drawn and with one hand firmly hold it down.   With your other hand gently pull up on the outboard section of wing until it just starts to fracture.   The goal is for the bottom edge of the wing to be fractured at this location but for the top edge to still be attached.   An alternative to make this easier is to place a piece of masking tape across the line that was drawn before fracturing the bottom surface (i.e. even if one fractures thru the thickness of the wing it will still be attached).   Do the same on the other end of the wing.
    • g. Place the wing upside down on the wing dihedral jig and center it.   Attach the wing to the jig using masking tape.   Tape down each wing tip to the jig.

    • h. Place some white glue on one of the fractured surface and spread it.   Make sure to work the glue into the fracture or thes joint will be very weak when the glue dries.   On top of this glue. place one of the bonding strips (i.e. ¾ x 1 ¾ inch piece of covering tissue).   Work the glue into the tissue by wiping from the center of the strip to the outside edge.   The goal is to get the tissue soaked with glue and to wipe off any excess glue.   Let the wing stay in the jig until it is dry.
    • i. When dry, remove the wing from the jig.   If desired, decorate the wings with magic markers.   Permanent markers bleed less on the balsa than washable markers.
  1. Vertical Fin
    1. Trace the profile of the vertical fin onto the balsa using the Vertical / Horizontal Tail template and a gel pen.
    2. Using a scissors, cut just outside of the line that has been traced.
    3. Using the sanding block, sand off the excess balsa (i.e. the balsa that remains outside of the contour that was traced).
  1. Fuselage Assembly
    1. Using a ruler and a gel pen, mark the catapult lug location, wing location and vertical fin reference marks per the reference drawing.
    2. Attach the Catapult Lug using glue and use modeling pins or similar to hold it in place while it dries.
    3. Attach the Vertical Fin using glue and use modeling pins or similar to hold it in place while it dries.   The Vertical Fin is to placed on the fuselage relative to the reference mark, perpendicular to the fuselage and flush with the bottom of the fuselage.
  1. Horizontal Tail
    1. Trace the radius on the ends of the Horizontal Tail using the Vertical / Horizontal Tail template and a gel pen.
    2. Using a ruler, find the middle the Horizontal Tail.   Using the straight end of the Vertical / Horizontal Tail jig template, draw a perpendicular line at the middle of the Horizontal Tail with a pen.
    3. Using a scissors, cut just outside of the line that has been traced.
    4. Using the sanding block, sand off the excess balsa (i.e. the balsa that remains outside of the contour that was traced).
  1. Final Assembly of First Flights Flyer
      Verify that glue is dry.   If so, proceed to step b, this section.
    1. Install the Horizontal Tail At the rear of the Fuselage.
      1. If the Vertical Fin extends beyond the bottom of the fuselage, use the sanding block to remove the excess material.
      2. Slide a # 8 rubber band over the nose of the Fuselage towards the Vertical Fin.
      3. Place the Horizontal Tail on the bottom of the Fuselage with the line drawn in the middle facing down.
        .
      4. Gently pull the rubber band over the Horizontal Tail and onto the back of the fuselage.
      5. Center the Horizontal Tail on the Fuselage using the reference line.
    2. Install the wing over the front of the Fuselage.
      1. Slip a # 10 rubber band over the front of the Fuselage.
      2. Place the place the Wing on top of the Fuselage.
      3. Pull the rubber band over the wing and down under the front of the Fuselage.
      4. Gently slide the Wing rearward until it is in the approximate position as shown and is centered on the Fuselage.
    3. Slide the Nose Tube on to the front of the fuselage while holding the Fuselage at the catapult lug.   If a vinyl tube is used rather than the silicone tubing, it will be necessary to chamfer the inside diameter of the Nose Tube and/or slightly compress the front most corners of the Fuselage.   The silicone tubing is much easier to install.   Once you have tried it, you will not want to go back to using the vinyl tubing for the Nose Tube.
    4. Slide the cap over the open end of the tube.

  1. Adjusting to Fly

    1. To hand launch the glider hold the glider between your thumb and index finger at the middle of the Fuselage.   Gently toss the glider horizontally.
    2. If the glider dives to the ground, then move the wing forward.   If the glider goes high and stalls, slide the wing back. The reference marks on the top of the fuselage are so that one can tell how far forward or rearward the Wing is.
    3. To keep the glider from turning, slide the Wing out horizontally in the direction that it turns.   The reference mark on the middle of the wing is so that one can tell how far the wing is shifted.
    4. When the glider lands, the Wing and Horizontal Tail may move.   If so, it will be necessary to reposition the wings relative to the reference marks.

An alternative to hand launching this glider is to catapult it.   The catapult can be made from a 6-inch long piece of 3/16 dowel and a # 117B (i.e. 7 inch x 1/8 inch) rubber band.   As a word of caution, other than in a gymnasium, catapulting this glider is an outside activity.   The glider is not to be catapulted in the direction of any person.   The attached picture shows how to launch the glider with the catapult.
Note: When catapulting, the Wing needs to be shifted more rearward than typical.


Catapault Launch

Catapult Stick

Catapult Launch Grip