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What follows below are step-by-step, heavily illustrated instructions for making and flying a tumblewing walkalong glider, a design invented by Michael Thompson. There are two qualities that make the tumblewing the obvious choice to start with. It is more stable and much slower than other walkalong glider designs.

Before you start, be aware that the step-by-step instructions below are not the only way to learn how to build and fly your first tumblewing. Phil Rossoni has created a good lesson on and several YouTube segments So why am I also making instructions? My instructions below are more detailed, divided into smaller steps, with particular emphasis where I had trouble and I witness my students having problems. If you prefer to charge into things, work out the details yourself as you go and you perhaps have some experience with airplane piloting or model airplane flying, you might find that Phil's instructions get you in the air quicker without boredom. On the other hand, if it's not working out come back. I can teach anyone to surf on air.

What you need.
All you need is a page from a phonebook, a pattern, a large piece of cardboard and a hallway. some scissors and tape, too.

The paper you make the tumblewing out of should be lightweight but stiff enough to keep its shape. I suggest phone book paper is best, but it is not the only paper you could use. I weighed identically-sized (8.5" by 11") pieces of paper and got the following results:

tissue paper 1.3
phone book paper 1.8
newspaper 2.9
glossy magazine paper 3.2
printer paper 4.7

Notice that tissue paper is much lighter than even phone book paper, but there is a point of diminishing returns when avoiding weight. Tissue paper is so flimsy I do not recommend starting with it unless the air is very dry (usually cold winter days). If you wish to research tumblewing weight, see Phil Rossoni's experiments.

Though a tumblewing can be made of various papers, phone book paper is stiff enough, light and easy to get.

The cardboard "paddle" should be as big as possible when you are starting out. The smallest paddle I start many students off with is the top or bottom of pizza boxes that measure 18” by 24” (46 cm by 62 cm), and a bigger one is better. If you go much smaller than that you might have trouble. A bigger paddle seems to create a bigger wave of air so you can walk slower, which makes it easier to keep things balanced.

The "paddle" can be the top of a pizza box, but... ...when starting out the bigger the cardboard the better.

When the tumblewing pattern prints out it should be approximately 9 1/2" long . Some printers change the scale. The exact size is not important, but I prefer to teach people with a big tumblewing because it is easier to fold, less affected by air currents and it turns slower, so it's easier to learn with.

The pattern you print out should be about this big.

Scissors, tape, and a ball-point pen

Finding a place to fly is a problem sometimes. If you stand still but can feel the slightest wisp of wind against your face, you are probably going to have a difficult time flying. Sometimes it is calm enough at dawn or dusk, but mostly I teach people how to fly indoors. Even indoors air currents from ventilation systems or open windows can cause problems. It becomes noticeably harder to air surf in my school once warm weather commences and windows are opened--even in the halls, and even though I cannot actually feel the wind.

The second thing to consider is having some space. Of course it's great to have an expanse of indoor public space such as a school or library or the aisles of a grocery store, but even a typical hallway of a typical house can work.

This heat exchanger for the ventilation system in my classroom is my nemesis. Even though it's mounted high above the lights, I have to turn it off when students fly tumblewings.


Click here and print out the PDF of the pattern if you did not already. When the print window comes up, look to make sure it does not scale bigger or smaller. The drawings ought to be about 9 1/2" (245mm) long. Cut out the pattern on the outside solid line.


I think it is much easier to fold the printed pattern first, then use it to help fold the phone book paper (I like to think of it as sort of analagous to the way messenger RNA patterns itself against DNA). You will be folding on the 4 dashed lines. The two long dashed lines are particularly difficult to fold because they curve at the ends. I’ve found that if you first put the pattern on something softer than the table, such as the phone book or a magazine, and “draw” with a ball-point-pen the folding is easier and more accurate. Push very hard with the pen and go over it several times.

I am trying to weaken the paper fibers along all the dashed lines. Push very hard and be especially thorough where the dashed lines curve.       I am also pushing hard with the pen on the small dashed lines at the ends. The pen does not even have to have ink to work. You are not pressing too hard unless the paper rips.

IMPORTANT: One long fold should go up and one long fold should go down. Because of the symmetry of the tumblewing, it does not matter which goes down and which goes up.

Bend a long fold. If you pushed hard with the pen, it should easy to fold. Notice that the line that was formerly dashed is now solid because of the hard pressing with the ball point pen.   One of the long folds goes down, the other folds up.  

Notice that one flap (the one my thumb is on) is folded down somewhere around 30 degrees. The opposite fold goes up about 30 degrees.


The short folds (end tips) both fold in the same direction (both up or both down--it doesn't matter which because of symmetry) 90 degrees.

This is what it should look like when you are done.


Flatten the pattern. Tape it onto the phone book paper in 4 places. Use the pattern to cut out the phone book paper, except on the ends.

Tape the tumblewing pattern to the phone book paper in 4 places as shown. I used black tape so it would show up; ny tape will work.     Cut out along the the outside of the pattern EXCEPT IN TWO PLACES...     ...ON THE TWO ENDS. Don't cut the tape on the ends yet. It will hold the pattern to the other paper.

Use the pen again to squish the paper fibers along the fold line, then use the pattern to transfer the folds into the phone book paper.

Press very hard again on all the lines that used to be dashed. Your hand is probably getting tired from all that pressing, but it is worth the effort. It makes folding the phone book paper so much easier.     Fold hard! The fold lines in the phone book paper should be clear and strong even though the long folds will only be about 30 degrees when you fly.     More transferring the folds to the phone book. Pay particular attention to the curved part.

You are almost finished.

More folding, where the line curves and the short bend for the wing tip.     Finally, cut through the tape at the end and...     ...separation! Clean up the folds on the phone book tumblewing, make sure the wing tips bend to 90 degrees and you are done.



To avoid needless frustration, learn to launch your tumblewing well before you try to keep it in the air with the paddle. It won't take long if you follow a few guidelines. Everybody understands that the long folds help keep the length of the tumblewing rigid, and they perform another vital function. The creases--one bending up and one bending down--strongly influence how the tumblewing will fly. If you hold onto it the right way and start it revolving the right way, you will have perfect launches almost every time.

When you gently hold onto one of the long tilted edges it is very IMPORTANT THAT THE EDGE YOU ARE HOLDING ONTO IS SLANTING UP, NOT DOWN. The other edge--it will be the front (leading )edge facing away from you--of course, will slant down since you are holding onto the one slanting up. However, the long middle part not be tilted down; it should be horizontal.

This is an end view of the correct way to hold a tumblewing for launch. It is very important that the edge that I am holding onto is folded up. The opposite edge on the left of the picture is folded down. It is also best when starting out to have the wing tips pointing up, as shown. Although the front is folded down, the front is not drooping down.    

NO! If you hold it like this--with the edge you are holding folded down--it will not fly forward. Here is a video of launching it like this. Notice it starts out OK, then REVERSES!
Amusing, but not a good way to get in the air!

    This is the view of how it will actually look when you launch it (except that I put a piece of cardboard in front to reduce distracting clutter) It is horizontal, not tipped to one side or the other.

You do not just let the tumblewing go. You need to give it a quick, short push that will do two things:

1.) start the tumblewing gliding away from you, so push it away from you a little, and

2.) start it rotating in the right right direction, so push the edge you're holding onto down a little at the same time you are pushing it away

Here is a short video of a release--first regular speed, then slowed down 10X , followed by some still pictures extracted from the video along with comments.

Remember to hold onto the edge which bends up. Hold it horizontally, not drooping down. You will have to impart the forward motion and the turning motion of the tumblewing.     The picture is blurred because I'm pushing the tumblewing forward.     Not only have I pushed forward more, I have also pushed the back down to start the turning motion (counter-clockwise in this view).


The tumblewing is released. Now the trick is to snap my fingers back out of the way so it doesn't hit them as it flips over.     If the tumblewing looks too big, it is. I used a double-size one so it would be more clear in the pictures.     The tumblewing has revolved 180 degrees and is moving forward. It is a good launch!


Remember, this push is very short--only an inch or two, or a few centimeters--and very quick. You push both forward and down. You have to let go at just the right time, which comes with practice.

As you are practicing your launches, notice whether the tumblewing is gliding straight ahead, or does it always turn? If it's always turning strongly in the same direction--and you can rule out wind being the cause--I have found a way to adjust it so it goes fairly straight, which will be easier to fly (you can make it turn at will with the cardboard paddle, but that's coming up in the next step).

Here is a full-speed video of of the kind of glide path you want: fairly straight followed by some still pictures from that video clip.

Notice that the wing tips are exactly 90 degrees. When they are bent over, they tend to drift to one side.         It drifted ever so slightly to the right, but this tumblewing will be easy to handle.

Here is another video; this time the tumblewing is launched straight, but soon turns sharply to the right. It will be a constant fight to fly this tumblewing straight, but you can adjust it.

Notice that the wing tips are bent a little bit to the left. That is why the tumblewing will turn to the right.   The launch starts straight, but...   ...soon it turns to the right.   To make it fly straight, bend the wing tips in the direction it is turning--in this case to the right.


Here is another video, but this time the tumblewing is veering to the left. A tumblewing that turns so much will be hard to fly. Here are some pictures from the video.

Notice that the wing tips (where the arrows point) are tilted to the right. That is why this tumblewing will drift to the left.   Shortly after the release it seems to be flying straight, but...   ...soon it turns sharply to the left. It does this every time.   To correct this turn, bend the wing tips IN THE SAME DIRECTION THAT THE TUMBLEWING IS TURNING.

If bending the wing tips as shown does not stop it from always turning in one direction, there are two other things that could be causing the problem: a.) air currents are turning it, or b.) you are unconsciously tipping the tumblewing to the left or right.

Once most of your launches send the tumblewing straight away from you with a gentle glide, you are ready to grab your cardboard paddle and actually make it fly, not just glide.


Here is a short video of me releasing the tumblewing and then engaging it with the cardboard. And here is the slowed-down version. Here is an overhead, slow-motion view of a tumblewing launch.

I know you want to try flying now. There are two mistakes that everyone makes at first. When you get frustrated, don't quit. Come back and we'll tackle those.




When you release the tumblewing and it starts to turn a little bit left or right, you may find yourself turning with it instead of pushing it back to straight ahead again.It will turn more, you will turn more and soon you will be like A DOG CHASING ITS OWN TAIL! Instead, try to be like a sheepdog. About 3/4 of the way through this video you can see a sheepdog pushing sheep forward and keeping them from going off the road. When the sheep wander to one side of the road, the dog nudges them back. DON'T LET THE TUMBLEWING TELL YOU WHERE TO GO; YOU TELL THE TUMBLEWING WHERE TO GO!

This is an overhead picture looking down. Tilting the cardboard a little to the right will make the tumblewing turn right. You control turns, not the tumblewing.       These are still shots from the videos just below. They show a student making turns within rows of student's desks.

Here is a video of a student making turns within rows of desks at my school. He had no practice at making such sharp turns, and he turned too sharply, with the tumblewing sliding too much to the right. However, he is so skilled at controlling the tumblewing that he is able to steer it back into the row and immediately make another turn. Here is the full speed version. And here is a slow-motion version. Finally, after a few minutes of practice, he could make perfect turn after turn in the rows of desks. The point of all this is to drive home the truth that you control the direction of the tumblewing by turning the cardboard left or right.


The second mistake is almost everybody changes the tilt of the cardboard paddle to try to make the tumblewing go higher (gain altitude). Tilt the paddle to slant a little off vertical, as shown, AND THEN CONCIOUSLY KEEP IT AT THAT ANGLE. On the first few tries, most people tilt the board toward horizontal to make the tumblewing rise and they are not even conscious of doing this. Tilting toward horizontal actually decreases lift.

This still shot from the video just below shows approximately how much the cardboard should be slanted. To make the tumblewing fly higher you walk faster.       This is how most beginners slant the board when the tumblewing goes down, but it makes the tumblewing go down more, not less. Unfortunately, most people don't even realize they are doing this!

Here is a video showing what happens when I slant the board toward horizontal. Notice that I'm flying OK until I tilt the board toward horizontal; the tumblewing starts to descend. I save it by tilting the cardboard closer to vertical again. Again I gain altitude. The point is: slanting the board toward horizontal does not lift the tumblewing. Quite the opposite. Here is the video.

This video clip shows the right way to make the tumblewing gain altitude. You can gage the height by looking at the horizontal lines between the blocks that make the wall. Notice that just by walking faster (it might not seem that way because the clip is in slow motion) I can make it go higher. Here is the right way to gain altitude.

Tilting the cardboard is so ingrained (most people do not realize they are doing it) that I suggest this exercise below. By going to the extreme of that parameter, your mind starts to establish walking faster as the way to gain altitude.

Establish in your mind that you will not change the angle of the cardboard. Launch the tumblewing and push it too fast... it actually blows over the top of the top of the cardboard.     It might be annoying to have the tumblewing blow into your face, but it strengthens the habit of raising altitude with speed, not tilting.


Learning to fly a tumblewing is difficult because it is not like anything we have done before. Every new skill is awkward at first. In addition, you have to keep track of so many variables at once. It took me weeks to get the hang of tumblewings, and it was worth it. I'm glad I persisted.

Because flying tumblewings is so different, I found these directions to be more challenging than any others on the web site. The instructions are not fixed in stone. I value your feedback. Somebody saying it helped them get into the air makes my day! And I value constructive criticism just as much so I can make the directions better. And if you put up a video of you flying the tumblewing onto the web and let me know, I can create a gallery and link to it. Contact the author.

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