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 Paper Helicopter Design Optimization
[Make and fly this paper helicopter just for fun or to prove that the design of experiment (DOE) technique works. You would benefit from this demonstration project if you are familiar with DOE and/or otherwise know how to design and analyze the Taguchi/DOE experiments.]

How do you make a paper helicopter that stays in the air the longest?  You could go after it by trying 100's of your own designs, or by simply running 8 structured experiments (designs) using the DOE. This happens to be the most common demonstration project used by DOE instructors in college classes or in industrial trainings. It's popularity is due mainly to its simplicity in fabrication and tests. More importantly, it is a great way to demonstrate how DOE works..

Whether you wish to use it as a class exercise or create & fly a few, it is likely to be fun & learning exercise. The attached graphics and suggestions are to help you get started. The design parameters (factors) you select will dictate your design of the helicopters. This and the drop height will have direct influence on the flight time. [Inclusion of Interaction, noise factors and signal factors are optional and are meant for experienced experimenters.]


Paper Helicopter Design Optimization Experiment  - Design and Test Overview

Tools for Fabrication and Testing: To make the helicopters you will need few plain sheets of paper and scissors. You will also need a digital stop watch to record flight time.

Construction Steps:   Split Wings by cutting along solid line    Fold wings along the dashed lines   Cut Lower Body to Upper Body joints      Fold Lower Body sides along the dashed lines (Follow detailed steps in the next page below)

Objective:  Obtain longest helicopter flight time. 
Result: Flight time (measured in Sec., Bigger is better) 

Suggested control Factors & Interactions

Factor Descriptions

Level - 1

Level - 2

A:Wing Length

Short (8 units)

Long (14)

B:Wing Width

Narrow (6)

Wide (10)

C:Lower Body Length

Short (16)

Long (24)

D:Lower Body Width

Narrow (4)

Wide (10)

E:Upper Body Vents


Two small holes


Additional factors: Paper thickness, Paper Clips (at lower body), etc.

Note: Use diagram in the next page for construction when available. 

Interactions:  AxB, BxC, etc.   Noise Factor: Drop Orientation (N),   N1 = 0 degree,  N2 = 45 degrees, Signal Factor (in case of Dynamic System, not used in this demonstration): Use Drop height (72  - 96)

(Keep the drop height at a fixed level for all tests when signal factor is not applicable.)

Project Tasks: (I) Practice making a few helicopters and fly them, (II) Brainstorm and select factors (A, B, C, D, etc.) and the two levels for each factor. Design an experiment and construct eight helicopters. Fly your models and collect three flight time (or number of rotation) data at each of the two noise levels. Analyze results and confirm the optimum design.


Construction and Testing - Detailed Steps:

This exercise makes use of L-8 Orthogonal array to lay out the experiments and determine the 8 helicopter designs for tests. By following the steps outlined below, you have the opportunity to  exercise all recommended phases of the DOE application like PLANNING, DESIGNING, RUNNING EXPERIMENTS, ANALYZING RESULTS and CONFIRMING predictions.  

 1.  Follow the dimension provided and make one or more helicopter for practice flight. You may find that adding a paper clip at the bottom of lower body makes the helicopter fly better.

2.   Study the helicopter dimension at right and select factors (similar to that shown above) you wish to study. Select the two levels of factors (short, long, narrow , wide, etc. Redefine if you chose different dimension). The preferred way is to brainstorm and list all possible factors in a descending order of suspected influence. Then select the top 5 to 7 factors for the study.

3.   Design the experiment by assigning factors to the column of an L-8 orthogonal array as shown above, Describe (note & or print) the description of all 8 experiments by reading across and interpreting the rows of the L-8 array. [You may find it convenient to use Qualitek-4 software for design and analysis tasks (Download Qualitek-4 working DEMO from ).  Make 8 helicopters following the 8 design (recipe) prescribed L-8 array. If you are working as a team, it is a good idea for each to member to fabricate one or more helicopter test samples. Inspect and assure that all helicopter dimensions conform to the prescribed description. If working as a team, appoint the three task performers: Flyer, Timer and Recorder.

6.   Select a drop height and location to start the test. Find a place with least interference from airflow. A tall person standing on a chair, makes a good drop height.

7.   To start the test, select the helicopter samples in random order. Fly each helicopter 6 times, 3 holding it vertically (noise, N1) and 3 holding it at 45 degrees to vertical (noise N2) before releasing. This way, fly and collect times for 8x 6 = 48 flights.

8.   Upon completion of all flights (48 tests), enter results on the right side of the L-8 array (input results in Qualitek-4 software).

9.   Analyze results (either manually or using software) to determine (1) Optimum condition and (2) Estimated performance at the optimum condition (best design)

10  To confirm the DOE estimate of improvement (prediction theoretical result), make & run at least one helicopter in the optimum design and fly it 6 or more times. Note the average of all results and compare it with the estimated value.










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