Rolloplane Balsa Rotor Kite

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Introduction and History
Building a Balsa Rolloplane
Notes and Experiences
Responses about this plan

Introduction and History

In response to a email recieved with regard to the Meat Tray Rotor Plan Ken Sams the creator of the Modern UFO enlightens us on a old rotor design called a Rolloplane.

D. W. "Dave" Davis <> reminiscences on 9th October 1997...

Thank you for "kick starting my memory"! In the late 1940/early 1950s there were people who sold a "rotor" kite from their cars in the Southbay area of Southern California (long before UFOs!) As a kid I wanted but never got, one.

As I remember, the main spar was square basswood with a tack holding a washer (with a second hole for the bridle).

The center surface was made of two sheets of heavy paper. with the sparsandwiched between. I think the "S" curve resulted from the gluing.

Kenneth Sams Resonded with...

I was surprised and delighted to learn that D.W. Davis remembered those spinning UFOs back in the late 1940s being sold from a car in the Los Angelese area back in the late 40s. The people selling them were none other than me and my partner Joe Smith.

These were called Rolloplanes, sold as kits which consisted of 16 pieces of balsa wood, a tube of glue and swivels and line. They made up an S-shaped wing about a foot long with a disc on each end. We sold them at various places, including Santa Monica beach, Inglewood and outside LA airport. We'd put 20 or so in the air, put our signs up about 50 yards on each side of our car and people pulled over to buy them.

They sold at 50 cents each and on a good day, we'd each make about 10 bucks, a lot of money then, money which helped pay my way through four years at UCLA.

Joe Smith was an ex Air Force bombardier and it was his idea. I joined up with him in 1947 after seeing his first display on the beach between Santa Monica and Malibu.

It was a great way to make money but more important, it got me hooked on rotary flight, leading to that major breakthrough 40 years later when I discovered that a flat wing worked far better that the S-shaped wing and patented the current UFO SAM (See Modern UFO page).

Even today it's hard to believe nobody thought about the flat wing like insects have. [construction]

Anyway, thanks to D. W. Davis for remembering this historic beginning of rotary flight. And Joe Smith in Torrance, if you're reading this on your computer, let's say hello again for the first time in 50 years.

Building a Balsa Rolloplane

I never kept a sample and I can't recall exactly, but here roughly, is the way I remember it.

It had a wing of three pieces , each about a foot long, a wide piece in the middle and two smaller widths. These were glued together as shown in the drawing. It had two discs of three pieces each, as shown. The wing was inserted into the discs.

A piece of wood with a nail on the end was glued into place on each end of the wing. Line was tied around the nail to make the bridle. Something like that. It flew very well and in lightest winds.

It would be great if somewhere out there is a person who still has a Rolloplane stashed in a cupboard somewhere. It's a possibility.

Ken Sams

Notes and Experiences

Note that the small wooden dowel should extect slightly beyond the side discs so that the bridle lines do not rub against the disks. a couple of small beads on either side of the string may also help reduce friction and wear. These are only guesses on my part.

Mark I Trial (August 2000):-

[photo] I have built and trialed my first mark I prototype from this plan using 1mm balsa for wing (30 cm long), and 3mm for discs. The rotor spun really fast, was very light, and had a good lift, when I made the disks I limited the size to about the same width as the wing.

The result was the disk were too small and did not provide enough gryoscopic stability to the kite which lifted, rolled of to one side (either side equally well), and into the ground. However if I held the bridle line directly with the two lines slightly apart I was able to manually stabilise the kite, so it is working, just not stable on its own.

For mark II, I will use much larger discs to try an stabilise it...

Mark II Trial (September 2000):-

Larger disks had no real effect on the performance. The same problem as with mark 1. The kite rises but then swerves side to side until it crashes. I have decided to await the publication of Kenneth Sams new book.

Anthony Thyssen


If like this plan, and/or build one, please mail and let me know what you think. Including any ideas, suggestions or other experiences. That way I can add them to the above so others can read and benifit from your results. :-) Photos especially welcome!

Andrew A. Kinsman <> writes... [photo]
After visiting your web page I built a nice rotary kite from 1" thick high density Styrofoam. It weighs in at about 3.5 oz. and works best in steady wind over about 8-10 MPH. The center 1/4" wooden rod has been replace by a hollow fiberglass arrow shaft. This brought the weight up to 3.75 oz, but the device works better.

The leading edges are covered with clear packing tape to reduce chips obtained by the necessary kick to get it spinning. Nails and plastic electrical bundle tie-wraps make excellent bearings, especially when a little Vaseline is added to the nails.

Thank you for posting the pictures.

Andy Kinsman, Eastman Kodak Co.
Web Site

Created: 5 July 2000
Updated: 20 July 2000
Original: Numerous Emails from Kenneth Sams
Hypertext: Anthony Thyssen, <>