While driving to a family wedding off Cape this weekend something in the sky caught my eye. I squinted at what appeared to be a toy parachute in the clouds. Wait no, that is a real parachute guy, possibly on his descent to Otis Air Force Base. I thought it was a toy because it looked so small and I have much more experience with toy parachutes than real ones and I’d like to keep it that way!
Seeing this paratrooper inspired us to make toy parachutes. Since I haven’t had a design project in a while I decided it would be a fun challenge to create one that would not only work well and look authentic but would be uniquely simple to construct. First we tried a plastic supermarket bag. We taped the handles around the army guy’s arms and dropped him. It worked and was extremely easy to make but it looked like an upside down bag so it didn’t satisfy all three of our design goals. Our next design was still pretty simple, worked great, and looked a lot more like a real parachute!
Easy DIY Toy Parachute
All you need to make this parachute are 2 small Dixie cups and a 24″ trash can liner. The liners we used were the kind that come on a roll and are folded almost like a book then sealed (see cross section diagram in my instructional image) but one without folds would work too.
- If you have the same can liners we have, start by folding in half lengthwise once. If you have bags folded without gussets you will have to fold three times.
- Then cut your “ropes” with one long U shaped cut (about 15 inches). I used a rotary cutter and a straight edge but really sharp scissors or a craft knife work fine too.
- The next step is to carefully open up the parachute and separate all the layers (at this stage it looks like a really cool jellyfish)!
- Then make eight equidistant holes in one of your Dixie cups with something pointy.
- Twist the ends of the plastic “ropes” to a point and thread them through the holes.
- Once you have two threaded through you can knot them together or wait until you have them all threaded through and tie one big knot.
- The last step is to insert a second Dixie cup into the first so the knot or knots are hidden (I suppose this is an optional step).
We dropped it off our deck and it worked great. It has a nice authentic shape, it’s lightweight, and traps the air nicely. Build this or use our process as inspiration to come up with your own design!
It is always a good idea to do a little bit of research as part of any design process. Here is a great video on the history and evolution of parachute design. It also explain how they work by testing out a couple designs.
My kids also tested the umbrella method by jumping off our deck! It didn’t really break their fall but they could feel the air resistance.