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Tumblewing Glider

In this make and take, students visualize how air can act like a fluid by getting their gliders to ride an air wave!

When you release the Tumblewing Glider, lift occurs because of Bernoulli's principle: the air moving across the winglets moves faster than the air below, decreasing the air pressure. This causes the air pressure from below to push up, resulting in lift, keeping the tumblewing in the air longer.

When you move a piece of stiff cardboard through the air, it pushes air in front of it. This causes a region of higher air pressure to build up in front of the cardboard. When the tumblewing glider flies in front of the moving cardboard, it 'rides' on that region of higher air pressure like a surfer on a wave.

Air behaves like a fluid, so to visualize this, you can imagine you are pushing cardboard through a bathtub full of water – a wave of high-pressure water would be created in front of the cardboard.

This is a recommended post-visit activity for Science World On The Road.


  • Determine how manipulating the design of aircraft changes the size and direction of flight forces and link those changes to changes in the aircraft’s motion.

  • Explain how differences in air pressure create lift.


Key Questions

  • What happens if one or both wings are not at a 90 degree angle? Why?
  • Why does the tumblewing stay up longer when you hold the cardboard below it?
  • In this activity, how does air act as a fluid (i.e. how does it act like water?)

What To Do

Part 1: Making the Tumblewing Glider

  1. Carefully cut out one of the tumblewing glider templates.
  2. Fold the small winglets on the outer edges up at a 90 degree angle, as shown in the picture.
  3. Carefully bend the front edge of the tumblewing DOWN and the back edge UP. Make sure that the winglets are still at 90 degrees.

Part 2: Flying

  1. Hold the tumblewing in front of you with your index finger and thumb. Hold it by the back (UP bent) edge with the winglets pointing UP.
  2. Let go and watch it fall forward and away from you, tumbling backwards as it falls.
  3. If your tumblewing is turning to the left or right, check that the winglets are folded up at a 90 degree angle.

Part 3: Advanced flying

  1. Make a tumblewing glider out of an old piece of phone book paper.
  2. Find a large, flat sheet of cardboard to use as an air pusher. Hold your air pusher along both sides with the bottom tilted forward at about 30 degrees.
  3. Launch the tumblewing from above and slightly in front of your air pusher.
  4. As the tumblewing falls, walk forward with your air pusher. With practice, you will be able to keep your glider floating on a wave of air in front of you.


  • Can you adjust the wings so that the tumblewing turns right or left?