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Maple Seed Helicopter

This is a fun project that has nothing to do with bird flight. It does however demonstrate that animals are not the only organisms capable of flight. Many plants have winged seeds that glide or spiral to the ground. They can even catch an updraft and soar for long distances. Various plants also use flight by getting birds to swallow and transport their seeds, or by getting insects to carry their pollen.

To make the maple seed helicopter, all you need is scissors, glue, paper, and some cardboard. Use the non-corrugated variety. It works best if the cardboard is fairly thick, but you can also use double layers of thin cereal box cardboard to get the necessary weight.

  1. First, print out the pattern for the mapleseed helicopter, or draw your own pattern by looking at a real maple seed. You must have Adobe Reader on your computer to view and print the pattern.
  2. Follow the instructions on the pattern. First, you'll cut out three cardboard pieces.
  3. The longest cardboard piece forms the thick egde of the wing. You'll glue this piece onto the paper pattern sheet and cut out the outline of the helicopter.
  4. The small, round pieces are added last. These represent the actual seed that grows into a new maple tree. They also add weight in just the right spot to make the helicopter spin.
  5. To fly your maple seed helicopter, simply throw it straight up in the air, or drop it from a high place. If it doesn't spin when you throw it, try bending the end of the wing slightly.

You can also try experimenting with different shapes, weights, and sizes. Some of your maple seed helicopters will work quite well, and others will not. With each new model you will learn more!

There are many varieties of maple tree, and each one has a distinctive shape to its winged seeds. Pine trees also produce winged seeds similar to the maple seed. However, instead of growing on the tree in pairs, they form inside the pine cone and drop out when the cone opens up! Can you find any other seeds that do the same thing as a maple seed?