It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a paper airplane drone!

July 24, 2014

The Wall Street Journal’s Jack Nicas tests out the PowerUp 3.0, which turns an average paper airplane into a smartphone-controlled electric drone.

If you think paper airplanes are just for little kids, think again.

You can now build your own drone with only a piece of paper, a battery-powered plastic propeller and rudder and an iPhone with a special app.

Shai Goitein and his PowerUp 3.0

The Wall Street Journal reported that the PowerUp 3.0 is the brainchild of former Israeli Air Force pilot Shai Goitein, who came up with idea for the toy in 2006 with a rocket-scientist friend. The PowerUp 3.0 is a lightweight guidance-and-propulsion system powered by a dime-size battery. It clips onto paper aircraft and connects to iPhones using Bluetooth, transforming them into remote-control drones.

Goitein went on the website Kickstarter seeking $50,000 to make a remote-controlled version. Instead, he raised $1.23 million, with the first 50 kits going to beta testers.

With the extra funds, Goitein is adding a dogfight mode that lets one pilot shoot down an enemy paper plane with a Bluetooth signal that stops the rival's engine, the Wall Street Journal reported. The next-generation PowerUp will have a magnetometer, accelerometer and gyrometer, the paper added.

While the PowerUp 3.0 can’t do all of the things its more expensive counterparts can, it can provide a lot of fun.

Close-ups of the PowerUp 3.0 paper airplane drone

Chuck Pell of Durham, N.C. is one of the PowerUp 3.0’s beta testers. Recently, he made his paper airplane drone in less than a minute, opened an app on his iPhone and then flung his creation skyward, steering it above the trees with turns of his phone. This time the plane soared out of views. But many times before it did a nosedive to the ground.

 It’s good technology, Pell says. “It just needs more pilot training.”

All aviation pioneers began with models, and paper planes "are the sandbox of aviation," Pell says. "With no money or time, you can try all those crazy designs and get them to work."

   Close-ups of the PowerUp 3.0 paper airplane drone