A Balloon Powered Helicopter

by kwalus, published

A Balloon Powered Helicopter by kwalus Sep 19, 2013

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40987Views 8490Downloads Found in Learning


This balloon helicopter is a neat toy, tool for teaching basic flight physics, and very nice case study in design and experimentation that could be useful in the undergraduate or high school teaching lab.

Notes on flying:
Current best configuration: 16mm blades (blade_16.stl), 13 degree rotor (rotor_13.stl).

Short flying video clip located here: http://youtu.be/mo7PvU1rNRc

Once printed, insert the three blades into the rotor. Insert the nozzle long ways into a balloon and fill the balloon. Insert the nozzle into the rotor while pinching off the balloon, try to ensure that it is straight. Throw. Try different techniques, I found a little spin can help get it going.

It does not perform as well as some of the videos I have seen for commercial versions, possibly simply due to weight (if you have one, post the weight), but hopefully with your help we can improve it together.

Notes on making:
[See instructions for full details] All the components should be printable and all you need in addition is a nice balloon. The helicopter was developed using PLA on one MakerBot Replicator 2, but hopefully you can tell me if it works on yours or others. One key element is the need for a very flat build plate since it requires very thin (0.1mm) films to reduce the weight.

Notes on design:
I really enjoy design for 3D print and this was a nice case study with interesting constraints. I have included the SolidWorks design files for the latest and greatest version. This has gone through 5 major revisions to date in order to get it to fly as well as it does, but it still needs improvement. To get the weight down, I experimented with various surface profiles, wall thicknesses, geometry, build parameters, etc. My hope is others may try to improve it and we can collectively identify the optimal design.

I conducted some basic experiments on variants and have posted STL's for different blades and rotors in case you want to do some of those experiments for yourself. The design files are not well documented but if you have some basic skills with SolidWorks, it should be no problem to figure out.


This design really needs to be made at the highest build quality settings since weight and form are critical. I used 0.1mm layers, 1 shell, 100% fill for the blades and rotor, and switched to 0% fill for the nozzle. All the STL's should already be oriented for best printing. I am also using a glass build plate to ensure a level build platform: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:57411 and taped with green painters tape. Print and assemble 3 blades with the rotor and if necessary run a bead of glue at the joint to the rotor to reduce leaks. It also helps to hold it together and often blades will come flying out (and possibly hit your neighbours kid - I said sorry). In total the printed parts should weight approximately 11g.

Notes on the blades:
Carefully peel from build plate with flat plaster knife. There is some technique to develop in getting the blades off without warping the film, you have to experiment. Blade STL file names are appended with the outside width of the outlet opening [start with 12].

Notes on rotors:
Rotor file names are appended with the angle of attack [start with 13].

Notes on nozzle:
Do not glue the nozzle to the rotor; instead insert that into the balloon, with the long part going into the balloon. Although it adds to the weight, this feature is there in order to keep the neck of the balloon from twisting shut when torqued by the blades.

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I found that the nozzle do not enter at all in the rotor, so I had to take back design to FreeCAD. Another strange things is that with Cura when trying to print or seeing with slide view, I do not have the firsts layers printed or shown. Again I had to take it back to FreeCad to correct it.

Also, I was printing for 3 childs, and having each times 3 blades for each air output (3x3x4), I printed the bigger blades one and did several small washers with different inside hole, so air flow can be controlled by changing only the washers. It can be inserted between the nozzle and the rotor.

Thanks is is really an amazing toy.

if you post the remixes you made, others will also see them linked from this page.

OK, I'm currently testing it and I will post the designs. However. I found when correcting that my printer and the Software (Cura by Damgoma) is simply ignoring details with thickness lower than 0.1mm to 0.2mm however my printer is rated at 0.1mm . It explains why the nozzle did not fit to the rotor : just because top of the nozzle was simply not printed. Same for bottom of rotors and wings of blades. I congrutulate you about the thinking about the weights and just cry about my printer. However, I will post soon the designs for bad printers....

I posted the remix, but actually it is locked. Do you have to accept?

There is no option that I could find to release your remix.

Must print with strong raft because the flexible part has trouble coming off a skinny raft, will reprint.

Jun 28, 2015 - Modified Jun 28, 2015

Nice build. Trying to mount it horizontal. I feel that a center rib would help the printer span the unsupported areas. Any ideas on this?

Comments deleted.

Has anyone tried to use a condom instead of a balloon? Can hold a lot of air but doesn't weigh so much.

maybe it doesn't fly very well because of air blockage so it might work better if you stick a really thin file in and turn it around and around.

How long does it take.

I have a commercial one, I will try to weigh it tonight.

Did you take the measurement?

I did, this one weighs 4.8 grams

I dream from seeing a baloon quadcopter. Who dares ?

I think you'd be better off mounting these upside-down from how you have them shown. They have negative camber the way they are now, which is why they don't make much lift.

the rotors are printed upside down, did you assume they were positioned right side up?

Based on the definition I found ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camber_%28aerodynamics%29http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C... ) it seems to me to be positive if I take the bottom to be both the cord line and the bottom camber line? How do you figure it is negative? Admittedly, I am not an aeronautical engineer, so I appreciate the feedback. I was hoping to print out a nice airfoil but ended up using this to keep it printable with minimum weight.

It's a little tricky to describe, but trust the aerospace engineer, you want them the other way around. For the shape you're stuck with for printing, you'll be best off with the flat side on top with the curved bulge on the bottom side of the leading edge. You'll also want that leading edge curved instead of pointed. You can imagine it as an approximation of the blackbird or sailboat airfoils from here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airfoilhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A...

Thanks for the feedback, I will definitely try this out.

oh man, I haven't seen one of these since I was a kid back in the 80s. I might have to print one out for MY son. :)

Interesting, but I think a plain old balloon might be more fun to play with. Can you angle the jets more so the thing goes up some before it goes down.

interesting combination of messages. Regarding the nozzle, it is designed to be printable with minimal weight, I am not sure how you could angle the jets down much more without more weight? You can try higher angles of attack and those are posted but from my experiments the best has been 13 degrees.

I will make a video of the best peeling technique

I printed this, but as the instructions say, you must be very careful taking the blades of the building plate. On my Replicator 2, the blades ripted into pieces while taking them of the build platform - I will try one more time on blue painters tape.

Ha, the old toys are coming back! Andrew (http://3dhacker.com3dhacker.com)

Excellent! Thank you Thingiverse for featuring this thing! It was great fun working on the Makerbot to develop this!

Cool, i remember thses