There are things you do because you must — like pay the electric bill and buy car insurance. But the things you do because you can are much cooler — like adding an electric motor to a paper airplane. Hence the reason for Taylor Toys POWER UP Electric Paper Airplane Conversion Kit.
What $14.99 buys you is obvious once you’ve opened the cardboard box; a green battery compartment that holds three “AA” batteries; a power module that consists of a carbon fiber rod with a rechargeable motor at one end and a propeller at the other (aprox 8-1/2” long); and an extra propeller. There’s also a nice little instruction booklet, should you choose to ignore the scan code that’s on the side of the battery compartment, which shows how to make a paper airplane that will work well with the kit, and it’s worth trying out instead of just making one like you would normally do. I’ve made paper airplanes at one time or another — so while I don’t feel compelled to follow the directions provided for turning a standard 8-1/2 x 11 or A4 sheet (20lb/80GSM respectively) into an example of gravity versus airflow dynamics, I think that this time it won’t hurt to follow Taylor Toys’ recommendations.
With my paper airplane now constructed, I inserted a set of “AA’ batteries into the battery compartment. But before I power up my paper airplane, I’ll test it for stability by giving it a go so it can do what it’s supposed to…which is to fly. It does for a couple of seconds before nose-diving to the ground. I dust it off and continue.
The power module has clips that hold onto the front of the paper airplane: the rod runs along the length so that the propeller is free at the other end. Now comes the tricky part because you have to cut elevator tabs at both of the ends by the propeller. What you do is measure 1” across from each end and then cut up to that point — a very sharp, small pair of scissors works best here, tearing instead won’t cut it (ouch, yes one of my worse puns). You can do this with the kit in place or before. Then both of the elevator tabs are bent up. The wings must also be inspected prior to flight for symmetry. Bet you didn’t think that there was so much involved in flying a paper airplane!
So now for the real thing. Holding the paper airplane in my right hand, I pressed the battery compartment’s “nozzle” against the corresponding socket on the power module — again, I have to stress taking this slow so you don’t end up pushing the paper airplane’s “nose” in. Taylor Toys says to hold this for no more than 20 seconds (and to let the motor cool for at least 2 minutes before recharging for another flight), but realistically if you count to 20 and end up going over by a few seconds, nothing bad will happen. That’s how I did it.
Charging up the motor starts the propeller going as soon as contact between it and the battery compartment is made. By itself, the motor can run the propeller at what seems full speed for over a minute, then it starts to decrease in power as it continues to run for about another minute plus a few tens of seconds. Granted this is really an unfair comparison, since the weight of the paper airplane, the angle of your launch, the wind and other factors will influence the length of time the propeller can propel your airplane. Also, because the propeller starts right away, you have to avoid the impulse to launch the plane immediately. And expect to have a few sheets of paper available because the first paper airplane that you make probably won’t be your last that day.
With the propeller spinning, I gave the plane a softball-like lob forward only to watch it do a kamikaze into the dirt. I recovered it, let the propeller stop spinning on its own and made a minute adjustment to the elevator tabs so as to correct for this (info in the booklet tells me what to do).
I tried again and the paper airplane flew on its own — looking absolutely cool with the sound of the propeller making a mild “swishing” sound. The paper airplane’s maiden voyage lasted a bit over 10 seconds before it hit the ground. I was able to smooth the plane out and fly it an additional 2 times before deciding that it was time to retire it for a newer model (paper is cheap, after all). I did find that as the batteries “aged,” the strength of the motor had less “oomph” than it did when the batteries were fresh. With fresh batteries in the compartment, I was eventually able to get my flying time to average 20 seconds and more — and once quite a bit longer, although it was pretty obvious that the wind had decided to chip in and keep the plane airborne that time.
Bottom line: Making a paper airplane can be entertaining, but not for very long. Converting it for powered flight makes it way more fun and for way more time. Thank you, Taylor Toys POWER UP Electric Paper Airplane Conversion Kit.
- Airplane templates downloadable from website
- Spare propeller
- Inexpensive batteries will need frequent replacement
- Plastic propeller is prone to break if used in rough environments
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.