Lt. Cmdr. Kerry Climo gives a boy a paper airplane she made

Paper planes are great projects. There are 1000s of designs, each with different flight characteristics. Some require cutting, others are made by folding only.

Dihedral provides aerodynamic stability to your models by making them want to self-center during flight. Paper airplanes have no intelligent flight controls after they leave your hand, so the plane needs to be naturally stable or else it will crash. Designs perform better when some dihedral is added to the wings.

Elevator is the aeronautical term for the hinged flap at the tail section of a plane that causes it to either climb (gain altitude) or dive (lose altitude). In paper airplanes these flaps are generally located on the trailing edge of the wings themselves, since there is rarely a separate tail.

Paper Airplane

What’s the problem?
Paper planes were used originally for testing real airplanes.

  • Ask – What characteristics of real airplanes can be tested with paper planes? How does shape affect flight?*
  • ImagineClassic Dart – Download any of the free paper airplane designs below and get flying! Just print out the template onto standard 8.5″ X 11″ printer paper. The fold and cut lines are clearly printed right onto the template, and each paper airplane design has easy-to-follow instructions.
  • Plan, Create – Make sure to read the printing tips. Also see the Flying Tips page for information about how to get the best performance out of your models. Classic Dart .pdf template and folding instructions
  • Improvefrom Fun Paper Airplanes, How to fold the world’s best paper airplane (video 8:28)

That’s engineering

  • drag (sometimes called resistance) – a force which tends to slow the movement of an object through a liquid or gas. The drag force is always opposite to the object’s motion, and the drag force increases as the object moves faster.
  • thrust – a force or a push. When a system pushes or accelerates mass in one direction, there is a thrust (force) just as large in the opposite direction. In math and physics, this is described by Isaac Newton’s second and third laws.

Engineering ideas

  • dihedral, aerodynamic stability, elevator, trailing edge, flight, drag, lift, thrust, gravity, resistance

Do it
Here are some challenges for you to work on…

  • Alex’s Paper Airplanes – videos and step-by-step instructions
  • Amazing Paper Airplanes
  • the very best paper airplane – John M. Collins, a television producer also known as “The Paper Airplane Guy,” is responsible for designing “Suzanne,” the current Guinness World Records holder for farthest flight by a paper aircraft.
  • make a paper airplane. Chose from one of these designs, find one online or make up your own. Fly the plane. Record flight details, make adjustments and retest. Apply information about flight to plane to extend range, improve maneuverability. Record changes and results.
  • The Science Behind Paper Airplanes – Depending on the aerodynamic design, paper airplanes can fly fairly far and glide through the air with ease. Physics can come in handy when designing the craft, as various forces can easily affect the distance and length of the flight. The current Guinness Book of World Record for the furthest paper aircraft flight is 69.14 meters. see activities, testing, …

Learn more…

  • Learn about Flight – There are 4 main forces that act on a paper airplane (or a real airplane for that matter) while it is flying.