Fling It to Wing It


Build a plane and catapult system to launch your plane the farthest distance.

Download the Flyer

Brief Description
The idea is simple: build a plane (fuselage, wings and a tail), release it from your catapult (throws the plane using potential energy), and compete to see who can fly the longest. It can't be too big, it can't be too expensive, and it can't be too dangerous - the rest is up to you and your imagination! Catapult struggling? You can hand launch your plane for distance and accuracy. Engineering can take on many forms and our prizes reflect those challenges. Cash prizes include distance flown, creative engineering, creative design for both plane and catapult. Read the full entry rules below.

Important Dates

Submissions  - Submit your entries by February 1, 2024

Competition -  Finals held April 13, 2024 at the San Diego Air & Space Museum

Minimum Grade Level
5th Grade

Maximum Grade Level
9th Grade


  • Distance – Prizes awarded in each category for the plane that floats the longest (planes may not shed or release any components once released).
    • Catapult Distance
    • Hand Fly Distance
  • Creativity – What was it about your design that was new, special, or original? Prizes awarded for creative thinking, even if your system doesn't go the distance. 
    • Creativity in Design for Catapult
    • Creativity in Design for Plane
    • Creativity in Engineering

Entry Rules

Your Plane AND Catapult:

  1. Must be original.
    • No model kits, pre-made planes/ catapults, etc.
    • 3D printed parts should make up no more than 20% of the overall design.
    • Legos/K'Nex/other construction kits cannot make up more than 50% of your design.
    • Only 30% of your designs can be premade items (examples propellor, pencil, etc..)
  2. Must be safe.
    • No flames, liquefied gasses, chemicals or compressed air.
    • The vehicle cannot potentially cause harm to judges or spectators.
    • No metal tipped items (arrows, darts)
  3. May not use an electrical or chemical power source.
    • Balloons, springs, and rubber bands are allowed.
    • No item may be intentionally shed from your vehicle. Should part of your vehicle fall off during flight, it will be up to judge discretion whether your entry advances.
  4. Must meet all size restrictions.
    • The core body of your plane including wings may not measure more than 24 in x 24 in x 12 in.
    • The plane has a minimum weight of 0.75 ounces (this will ensure a more fair competition)
    • The catapult may be 24 in by 24 in by 12 in 
    • Launching will be at a maximum of 40 inches of the ground. Table height is 36 in.
    • Balloons/parachutes/etc. may not extend more than 12 inches from the plane while in flight.
    • Fins/propellers cannot: Raise the height of your vehicle by more than 4 inches or extend more than 12 inches from any other side of the vehicle


  1. Students will check in on the day of the competition, then have their plane and catapult checked for size and the plane checked for weight.
  2. Students will talk to the judges to defend their choices and talk up their designs.
  3. One student representative from the team must release their own plane from their catapult., unless it is physically impossible or unsafe to do so. A 6 ft table will be provided to set the catapult. Planes will need to be launched parallel (straight ahead) to the floor and not up in the air as a parabola.  
    1. The majority of the plane will need to cross the distance line and land in the 2 meter runway to advance to the next round. 
    2. Note that the launcher can not be higher than 40 inches from the 
    3. If the distance exceeds 50 ft we reserve the right to move the competition outside. 
  4. For hand throwing a student representative will release the plane a 5 ft diameter circle will be used and the student can not leave the circle but may spin. Hand throw will need to be as close to parallel to the ground as possible and land in the 2 meter runway. . 
  5. All teams will need to be finalized on who is on the team 2 weeks out from the competition. No changing members after numbers are assigned to the teams. 
  6. The distance will increase for each round of competition.
    • 1st Round: 10 feet. For the first round only, each team will be allowed a second attempt if their first attempt is unsuccessful.
    • 2nd-5th round :2 ft each round
    • 6th-10 round 1 ft
    • 11th round and above, at the judge's discretion.
  7. Teams will be allowed extra time to modify their planes and catapults as the flight path distance changes if they request it, but will only be given four minutes per round to do so. Timing will be at the discretion of the judges.
  8. We love creative ideas, and we understand that the rules listed above may not cover every possibility that innovative student minds might come up with. We’re hoping, in fact, that students are so creative that they will come up with ideas that have never occurred to us! The judging committee will evaluate every plane and catapult from a safety and originality point of view. We reserve the right to amend the above specifications to ensure the safety of all participants and encourage you to contact us during your design process if you are unsure whether your design would be allowed.
  9. We reserve the option to keep and display your entries in the museum and/or other venues, including online. We would love to show off your success!

(Note: Only 1 prize per team)
Distance: Catapult

  • 1st place distance: $600
  • 2nd place distance: $450
  • 3rd place  distance: $300

Distance Free Throw

  • 1st place  distance $300
  • 2nd place distance $200
  • 3rd place distance $75


  • in Engineering Plane (3 prizes $300 each)
  • In Engineering Catapult (3 prizes $300 each)
  • Creativity in Design: 3 prizes of $300 each
  • Recycled Materials 1 prize $150

Rapid build

  • Come at 8 am and build a plane and catapult out of our materials.
    • First prize $150
    • Second prize $100
    • Third prize $50

Teacher/ Student Help
Teachers can request a mentorship to help establish a new program. A staff member will be assigned to help answer questions, get material grants for students, and host a student or student/parent launch meeting to explain the concept

Students- we are offering a limited amount of $50 grants to buy/obtain materials to build their planes and catapults. Grant applications will be available once the student has an approved blueprint.


Stage 1: Gather your crew
Form a team with one to five students and one adult coach. 
Note: your coach can be a teacher, a parent, or another adult in a role of responsibility, but their job is to help support your ideas and ensure safety, NOT to create your system for you. 

Stage 2: Design your Launch System
Submit your initial design to us no later than MIDNIGHT PST on February 1, 2024.  
Each student can only be on one team, and only one design can be submitted per team. Coaches may supervise more than one team.
Each submission must include the following:

  1. A blueprint of your design including plane and catapult (we keep the original - so please make a copy for your own records) 
    • All measurements need to be labeled with units (i.e. inches or centimeters)
    • All parts of your vehicle should be labeled with intended materials and intended function. Please say exact material and not shorthand for your class/teacher.
    • This drawing can be no bigger than one side of an 11x17 sheet of paper
    • First and Last name of each student in the group.
  2. An itemized budget for your items (we want to see creativity, not just the team with the most money) 
    • An entry should not cost more than $50 in parts, maximum.
    • If items are donated or already in your possession, an estimated value should be placed on them.
    • Tip: Using recycled or scrapped items may be a way to keep your costs down.

Your entry can be submitted via our online form or mailed to the SDASM Education Department, 2001 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101, and must be postmarked by February 1, 2024.

Please make sure you keep the original and send us a copy. We cannot be held responsible for entries lost in the mail, or not received via email.


** If you are having problems submitting your blueprint and budget:

1) Check your spam folder for the submission link

2) If you still can't find it, email your blueprint and budget to education@sdasm.org

Please make sure to still fill out the online entry form above by MIDNIGHT, FEBRUARY 1, 2024. Entries that are having technical difficulties with blueprint submission will not be penalized. 

Stage 3: Build Your Launch System
Teams will be notified of their entry status by February 28, 2024. Only build when you get the approval.
Gather your materials, with your coach watching, build your plane and catapult. Make sure to test it along the way.
If you need help, you will then have the opportunity (at your request) to talk to our experts. They may be able to provide advice on modifying your vehicle. This contact must be made via the competition organizers, and not directly with the experts.

Stage 4: Competition
Finals will be held on April 13, 2024 at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.
Please feel free to contact the contest coordinator, by clicking here, with any further questions or clarifications.

Good luck, and happy engineering!

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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