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DESIGNED BY Roger Storm, NASA Glenn Research Center


  • Clean foam meat trays, at least 9 inches by 11 inches and preferably white
  • 40 to 50 toothpicks
  • 30 inch piece of 1/8 x 1/8 piece of balsa wood
  • 2 craft sticks or Popsicle sticks
  • Low temperature glue gun
  • Scissors
  • Hobby  knife, razor utility knife, or single-edge razor blade (adult help here)
  • Cardboard or board to cut on
  • Fine tip permanent black marker
  • Ruler
  • Emery board
  • Manila folder
  • Clear plastic sheet, such as used on an overhead transparency
  • Plastic toy army soldiers (optional)


  • Download and print a copy of the pdf file "1903 template".
  • Use scissors to cut out all templates on the heavy lines.
  • Do all hobby knife or razor blade cutting on the board or cardboard to protect your working surface.
  • The finished model is for display only; it is not meant to fly.


1. Carefully trace the wing and elevator shapes on the
inside of two meat trays as shown. Be sure the front edges of the wings go about 2/3 of the way up the curved sides of the tray. Check the bottom of the tray and avoid any logo found there. Cut out the wings and elevator with the hobby knife or scissors. Use the emery board to smooth the cut edges and sand off the pen lines.

Flyer parts traced onto meat tray from templates.

2. When finished you should have the parts as shown.

All eight foam  parts laid out after being cut.

3. Use the emery board to smooth the edges. Make sure that the two halves of the upper and lower wings are flat where they will be joined, as shown at the lower right.

Rounding corners of wing using an emery board.

Using an emery board to make  joint line on wing half straight before gluing.

4. Using the template as a guide, take a black marker and mark the locations of the rib lines on the tops and bottoms of each wing and elevator section. Make two sets of marks, one on each edge. Connect the marks to make the rib lines. Use a permanent ultra fine black marker and a straight edge made from a manila folder (since it can be bent to conform to the rounded shape of the foam).

Black lines, about one centimeter apart, are  drawn across all wing surfaces.

5. Place glue on the flat edge of the upper and lower wing halves and join each wing as shown.

Glue is applied to join the wing halves.

6. Use the wing template and a sharp toothpick to mark the holes for the spars on the top surface of the lower wing. Note that the front edges of the wings curve down. Dip toothpicks into glue and set them upright in the lower wing. Try not to push them all the way through the wing. Be sure they are straight and let them dry.

Spars are glued into lower wing.

The template is used to mark the location of the spars in the upper wing.

7. Now turn the lower wing upside down and insert the spars into the underside of the upper wing, doing the back row (away from the curved edge) first. Be sure each is vertical and add a little glue to hold each in place. Now tip the wing forward and inset the front row of spars, working from one end to the other. Again, try not to push them all the way through the wing. It takes some effort to get each in the right place and vertical . Add a dab of glue at the top of each spar to help secure them to the upper wing .

Bottom wing is joined to the top wing.

8. Cut eight toothpick sections, each 2.5 cm. in length, and sharpen the cut ends. Mark the locations for these spars in the upper surface of the lower elevator using the template just as you did previously with the wings.

Spar locations re marked in the elevator.

9. Set the eight short spars into the top surface of the lower elevator and add a bit of glue to each at the base as shown.

Spars are glued into the lower elevator.

10. Turn this over and insert the spars into the underside of the upper elevator, doing the back row first and then the front, trying not to go all the way through the foam. Anchor with glue.

Lower elevator is joined to top.

11. Print the PDF file "1903 skid template". Cut a 14 cm. piece of the balsa wood "A" and lay it on the template. Cut the right end at a 45 degree angle. Cut a toothpick "B" to a length of 4.5 cm., with the cut end also being at a 45 degree angle. Glue the toothpick to the balsa to form a 90 degree angle as shown. Repeat this step to make a second skid.

Skid parts are laid out on the template.

12. Turn the elevator assembly over and poke a hole through the lower elevator midway between the front and rear spars of the pairs next to the center pair of spars. Push the top of the skid assembly "A" through the hole just made, add a bit of glue, and then stick the skid into the upper elevator. Repeat with the second skid as shown.

Skids are forced through the lower elevator.

13. Cut the pointed ends off three toothpicks so that they are 4.5 cm. in length and place them as cross-braces across the skids as shown, one at the right angle, one at 7 cm. from the right angle, and one at 9 cm..

Three crossbraces are joined betwen the skids.

14. Cut 2 toothpicks to a 3 cm. length. Glue them to the skid as shown on the template at "E" and "F", pointed ends up. Now measure and cut another tothpick as the rear brace "G" and glue it in place. Repeat Step 14 for the second skid.

Wing supports are glued to skids.

15. Now cut 2 balsa braces "C" to go from rear skid support up to elevator support. Glue them in place as shown.

Braces are added from rear of skid up to the elevators.

16. Turn the wing assembly over and press the skid assembly into the center of the lower wing as shown. Be sure the elevator projects out from the curved edge of the wing. Try to keep the toothpicks from going through the foam. Add some glue to each support.

Skid assembly is glued onto bottom of lower wing.

17. Cut two 10 cm. pieces of balsa "D" (see template) and sharpen one end. Glue one end under the leading edge of the upper wing between the center and next-to-center spar and then glue the other end to the bottom skid. Repeat on the other side of the skid.

Braces from the front off the upper wing to the elevator are added.

18. Six 2 cm. rudder braces are needed. Cut them from three toothpicks as shown and sharpen the cut ends.

Layout of tail assembly

19. Dip the braces in glue, insert them into the rudder as shown here, and then turn the assembly over and insert it into the other rudder. Add more glue for support.

To attach the rudder to the flyer make two sets of V-shaped braces by gluing together two toothpicks as shown.

Short spars are glued into rudders.

20. Glue the V-shaped braces to the rudders as shown. Once the glue is set, turn this over and glue on the other brace.

Rudder braces are glued to the rudder.

21. Stick the upper brace ends into the rear edge of the upper wing as shown and add a spot of glue. (If the wing is thin, glue the brace under the wing.) Now glue the ends of the lower brace to the rear of the skid so that the rudder is vertical.

Rudder braces ar glued to the rear of the Flyer.

22. To make the propeller supports, use the template and mark and cut 5 toothpicks for each. Try to keep the assembly flat as it is glued.

Measuring pieces of toothpick  on template to make propeller support.

All five propeller support pieces cut and laid out on template ready to glue.

23. When dry, glue each propeller support to the lower wing 5.5 cm. from the center, in line with the back struts. Turn the Flyer over and glue to the top wing so that the support is vertical. Extra hot melt glue may be added to fill in any gap.

Propeller support being glued to underside of upper wing.

24. Simulate the small engine by gluing two 2 cum. x 3 cm. pieces of foam together and then adding a 1 cm. x 3 cm. piece on top. Trace and cut a circle with a penny or dime, cut out, and then glue on the end of the engine. Glue the engine onto the lower wing just to the right of center.

Foam pieces glued into a motor and a penny slready used as a template to cut out a flywheel.

25. To simulate a turning propeller trace and cut two 7.2 cm. circles out of clear plastic, such as a piece of a blank overhead transparency. Use a black marker to draw pieces of smaller circles. Enlarge the small hole in the center of each circle with a toothpick.

From a thin craft stick or Popsicle stick cut a piece the diameter of the plastic circle, round the cut edge, and poke a hole in the center. Make two of these. Mount the plastic circle and then the propeller on the end of the propeller support and add glue. Repeat on the other side.

Compass marking a circle in a thin plastic sheet .

Using the cut out plastic circle a craft stick is marked at the proper length for a propeller.

Finished flyer from the right front.

Picture of first flight with finished model and army man in same pose as the picture.

26. (Optional) You can make figures of Wilbur and Orville Wright from small, plastic army men. (These figures are about 2 inched tall). Enlarge the image at the right to see labels. Use a hobby knife to carefully trim off guns and army equipment. The helmet can be trimmed into a hat. To obtain the desired pose, arms and legs can be removed and some from other soldiers glued in their place. The picture to the right shows how to make a pilot to lay on the wing.

How to cut and repose army men into Orville and Wilbur Wright.

27. The original soldiers on the left were transformed into the figures of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Shows two army men before and after being altered.



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Editor: Tom Benson
NASA Official: Tom Benson
Last Updated: Mon, May 10 02:09:26 PM EDT 2021

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