3D Printed Upgrade for Cheap Foam Glider

We know you’ve seen them: the big foam gliders that are a summertime staple of seemingly every big box retailer and dollar store in the world. They may be made by different companies or have slight cosmetic differences, but they all adhere to the basic formula: a long plastic bag containing the single-piece fuselage and two removable wings and a tail. Rip open the bag, jam the wings into the fuselage, and go see if you can’t get that thing stuck on a roof someplace.

But after you toss it around a few times, things start to get a little stale. Those of us in the Hackaday Collective who still retain memories of our childhood may even recall attempting to augment the glider with some strategically attached bottle rockets. But [Timothy Wright] has done considerably better than that. With the addition of a 3D printed “backpack”, he managed to add not only a motor to one of these foam fliers but an RC receiver and servos to move the control surfaces. The end result is a cheap and surprisingly capable RC plane with relatively little work required.

[Timothy] certainly isn’t claiming to be the first person to slap a motor on a foam glider to wring a bit more fun out of it, but his approach is very slick and of course has the added bonus of being available for other grownup kids to try thanks to the Creative Commons license he released the designs under. He mentions that variations in the different gliders might cause some compatibility issues, but with the generous application of some zip ties and tape, it should be good to go.

This particular hunk of foam might not set any altitude or distance records, and it certainly won’t be carrying you aloft, but it’s a pretty approachable summer project if you’ve got some RC gear laying around.

13 thoughts on “3D Printed Upgrade for Cheap Foam Glider

  1. I was going to say that I didn’t know a foam glider would have control surfaces, and I see that it doesn’t come that way.
    I’m not into model planes so I’ve not much experience, but I have a question: is it common to use the tailplane for roll control? I’ve not seen that done before.

    1. If there’s a lot of dihedral, applying rudder will result in enough left-right asymmetry in apparent wing angle of attack and will result in unequal lift, hence in roll.
      Was once commonly used to reduce the cost of controls in Ultralight craft. Qucksilvers are an example.

    1. I’m replying to myself to make a correction. I misunderstood the previous comment and so no – Weedhopper ultrailghts aren’t controlled this way. They do coordinated turns with rudder only and no ailerons. Sorry for the misinformation and my confusion.

  2. we used to do this without any 3d printing…the servos can fit tight into holes chewed into the fuselage with a utility knife, and for the motor we would just shove a couple wooden skewers into the nose of the thing and mount the motor to that. the foam is really surprisingly forgiving to haphazard butchering. good times.

    from the flight video it looks like he must have stiffened the wings? when we flew, the wings would get to flapping around leading to some amusing (but still quite controllabe/self-correcting) flight behaviors

    1. If you follow the link there’s what looks like a post crash picture that allows you to see the inside shape of the wing, it looks like it’s unstiffened foam, but it has quite a deep arch that would make it quite stiff by design.

  3. wings can be stiffened with “strapping” tape. one piece top side pulled tight, one piece bottom side will “shrink” the wing almost half an inch, but you could beat a guy with them after.

    I cut flaps into the wings, and use foam core and tape hinges for the elevator, and rudder.

  4. For a new to the rc world, can anyone put up a list of parts for this and where to get them? I can have shapeways print this for me and I’ve got the glider. Motor is no problem but where to get the little brackets that fasten to the elevator? Receiver? Servos? Radio the inventor is using? This looks like a lot of fun but so overwhelming to a newb.

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