How to Make an Airplane and Travel the World

How to Make an Airplane and Travel the World

Papier-macher projects with kids, homemade glue, Soviet Union



I will tell you about one thing that was in abundance in the Soviet Union. 

It was everywhere: in huge unsteady piles in the corners of our small apartments, in classrooms, flattering on every bench in a park and in doll-like Newspaper kiosks on every street corner. 
Every year we had a great Newspaper drive in our school (Сбор Макулатуры).  That was the day we went to school lugging huge piles of newspaper tied in neat bundles that sometimes always came loose half way to school.  
Little hands clutched helplessly at the unruly newspaper spilling in all five directions of the compass (“five” counting Kremlin), tears of frustration rolling down a red face.
It was a serious business. The teachers’ good opinion depended on how much newspaper you donated to the school.  The amount donated was carefully recorded.  Showing up with “insufficient” amount was an academic death sentence.  The “involved” parents were taking the morning off work to help carry even more newspaper to school.  Both parents and kids were swaying under the weight of paper mean-spirited from all that effort. 
It was a good day to learn some swear words.  
The older kids were excused from the morning classes to throw all the donated newspaper into a large dump truck parked in front of the school.  The truck took it ….
It is still a mystery to me where they took all that newspaper donated from every public school in a city on the same day. And what did they do with it?   
I could have been one of these kids.  Photo credit:
There were many uses for newspaper around the house.  We used it to wipe out butts, to wrap our sandwiches, (not in that order), to seal the windows against winter cold and to construct sun hats.  We even exchanged it for books.  I’m still not sure how it worked.  I remember hauling piles, piles, piles of newspaper into a neighborhood bookstore. Those were the days before cars, you understand.  We had to carry newspapers in travel suitcases (those were the days of suitcases without wheels) and push it in a baby carriage (borrowed from a nice mom in our building in exchange for a promise to babysit). 
You had to donate 50-100 kg in the least to be taken seriously. There was a huge scale, the type they use at the airports and a stern bookstore employee told you to step back from the scale so you didn’t add weight by “accidentally” leaning on it.  (I now have the opposite problem when I fly international and they ask me to pay for “excess”).  
After the newspaper was weighed, we added a little cash into the bargain and walked away exhausted but clutching shiny new classics by Gogol and Pushkin. Books were hard to obtain those days. You couldn’t just walk into a store and walk away with a book. That was unheard of!
You had to “earn” it by doing something a little insane, like donating newspaper. 
Photo source:
One of my favorite uses for newspapers was papier-mache projects. 
I didn’t have any special art supplies like my kids do now.  I had a pile of newspaper and a bag of flour and I could go to town with that.  And did I ever! 
My favorite project was making papier-mache houses.  Once I made a papier-mache curtain.  The most complicated projects required papier-mache cooking.  I am not sure why I had to go the long way but maybe I was just experimenting. 
In the cooking method, the small pieces of newspaper were thrown into a washing pot and covered with boiling hot water.  (The process guaranteed a couple of burns, but who was counting.)  After 24 hours the paper was slowly boiled on the stove top, then the remaining water was squeezed, and the cooked paper laid out on the balcony to dry in the sun.  The resulted paper mass was shaped into a tree and planted in a backyard.  Kidding.  The resulted paper mass was mixed with gymnastics chalk (don’t ask me, if a regular chalk is any different from gymnastics chalk, but that’s what I had) and then some quantity of washing starch and carpenter’s glue was mixed in.  Call it “practical science“?  This mix was poured into an empty metal can, homemade clay form or some other suitable form.  The cleaning up took a week.

One of the best things to do was to make a papier-mache airplane and fly it into a huge map of the world on the wall.  I kept my eyes closed until the plane touched the wall. Then I pulled out a huge dictionary and looked up the facts about the country where the airplane landed. The country I most often ended up “visiting” was Chad, probably because it was right in the middle of the map. You could wake me up in the middle of the night and ask,

what is the capital of Chad?
and without blinking an eye I would blurt out “N’Djamena”.  You can wake me up even now,  three decades later, and I will still say “N’Djamena.” I will also say some bad words because kids keep me so sleep deprived anyone who wakes me up for reasons other than burning house need to hear those words.
When you spend half of your childhood flying to N’Djamena and back, it’s not that surprising that by the time I turned sixteen I got on a real airplane and went to college in another country.  Never undermine the power of paper-macher travels. 
Looks like a map I had as a child.  Photo source:

How to make a papier-mache airplane 

When I starting making papier-mache projects with my kids after years of hiatus, I was struck by how immensely I enjoyed it.  There is something in this medium of expression that appeals to me like no other creative outlet.  Since making molds takes too much time, we simply use objects from a recycling bin as a base.  Our favorite base is the soda bottle!  It makes the best dolphins, spaceships, and boats.  I don’t have pics because we did those projects in the days before the blog, but I can share with you our airplane project just in time for the National Aviation Day today!  August 19th!

Making an airplane involves 4 steps

1. Soda bottle is “operated upon” to get it into an airplane shape
2. Two sets of wings, a tail, and three wheels are designed and attached by means of tape
3. Five layers of newspaper are papier-mached to the base (with each air dried naturally for at least 24 hours)
      4. The airplane is painted and decorated
This project requires a lot of time and patience so don’t start it unless you actually like long, messy projects.  The project is not inherently messy, but somehow kids make it so. The five layers of newspaper are not a requirement, but my kids want the airplane to stand to some rough landings. And does it ever! Hundreds, if not thousands of crash landings and still in one piece.
If kids are helping you, the surface of the airplane is not going to be as smooth as you want it to be and that’s ok!  We left our papier-mache airplane in the downpour and it cracked in many places.  My son looked at the damage with a critical eyes and pronounced, “I don’t care.  It is still the best airplane in the world.”  Kids do not mind the imperfections, but their pride at accomplishing this long project knows no bounds. 


Soda bottle
Paint brushes
Duct tape
Cardboard for wings and tail
Lego wheels of milk cups
Water, flour, salt to make glue
Newspaper or similar paper (something that is not too thick or glossy to blend in)


1.  Find a soda bottle.  We don’t drink soda, so this is not an easy task.  Luckily, I sometimes buy Russian fermented drink called kvas at a Russian store.
2.  My 7-year old was specific about which airplane he wanted.  This one
There were three things I had to do to our bottle to get it ready.  (A) Since our bottle was too long for the project, I had to shorten it by removing a portion in the middle.  If you are making a passenger airplane, skip this step.  (B) I also cut off the top portion of the bottle to get closer to the desired shape and to be able to stick my hand it to duct tape the two portions of the bottle we got from step A.  (C) The only way to hold an airplane while you are working with it is through the bottom holes.  That’s why I like to cut off the bumps at the bottom of the bottle.  You can keep one to be the base of the tail.
3.  Use duct tape to put the bottle back together.  If it doesn’t seem sturdy enough, stick your hand in through the opening and duct tape on the inside too. 
Don’t worry about how it all looks.  It’s all going to be covered by many layers of newspaper and painted. 
4. Draw two sets of wings and a tail.  Or print my set.  Free printable 
5. Once you print the set, cut them out, then lay them on top of cardboard and trace them.  
6.  Cut out with good, sharp scissors.
7.  Tape the wings and tail to the soda bottle.  
8.  WHEELS.  You can use milk cups or Lego Wheels.  Whatever is handy.

Use duct tape to attach them to the bottle.  The papier-mache glue will help to keep them in place.

9.  GLUE.  There are many different ways to make glue.  Two points to consider.  First, since my kids dip their fingers in it, I never add anything toxic to it.  Second, the no-cook version is not only easier when you work with kids, but actually better.  It dries to a smooth finish (unless kids use too much of it), it has a nice shade (that is easy to cover with paints), and it is very reliable (stands up to multiple crashes)

My glue: 1 cup flour, 1 cup flour, 1 Tablespoon of salt.  Salt is added to prevent mold growing.  But also make sure you let each layer dry completely before starting the next one.


10. Papier – Mache How To.  Tear newspaper into small pieces.  I try to avoid the edges because they don’t blend in as well.  However, newspaper edge pieces are perfect for the area around the front window.

Dip a piece of paper into glue mixture, squeeze out the excess with your fingers, so it isn’t drippy.  Lay paper over base and smooth it out gently.  Work in the same fashion until everything is covered, EXCEPT the window.  Or don’t leave the window space, just papier-mache everything and paint the window on later.

I usually don’t cover the front and back openings until final layers because that’s how I hold the airplane.  When you are ready to cover them, just duct tape them and cover with glued newspaper.

Let the airplane dry for 24 hours.  Repeat layers as needed.

11. Important note on the WINGS.  When you are doing the first layer ALWAYS rest the wings over a support until everything is dry.  The weight of the glue and newspaper will pull them down until the wings touch the table.  However, once the glue is dry, it’s like they are cemented into place and you have nothing to worry about.


10. Once it is dry, it’s time to paint.  Both tempera and acrylic paints work well. We like to paint it white first.


Once the white layer is dry, we add the designs.   You can also use stickers and glitter.

Kids have strong opinions about how it should be painted.  I let them do all the work.


How to travel the world with a papier-mache airplane

You can put a map on the floor, land the airplane with closed eyes and then explore the country where the plane landed (with dictionary or youtube videos).  You can also spread alphabet cards on the floor and once the airplane landed on a certain letter, explore the countries that start with that letter and look them up on a map.

I hope you give this project a try.  I can’t wait to find out if my instructions were clear or not.   The list of our favorite airplane books is coming up shortly.  Meanwhile, feel free to check our Airplane Board on Pinterest.

Follow Kid Minds’s board AIRPLANE PROJECTS on Pinterest.   

You might also be interested in Airplane Books and Activities


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  3. […] bottle, papier-mache glue and lots of newspaper!  It lasts for years!  Get the instructions HERE or PIN for later. […]

  4. […] year we didn’t have snowman snow yet.  We compensate by doing lots of snowman crafts.  I have told you earlier about my love of papier-mâché (paper-mache) projects, so it only stands to reason that when I saw […]

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