Less than $5.00
Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project
One to two hours to make the paper airplanes and collect the data; one day to prepare the science fair display.
To understand forces that cause paper airplanes to fly and determine which type of paper airplane flies the farthest.
- Directions for making paper airplanes
- Masking tape
- Measuring tape
Four forces are at work to make an airplane fly: weight, lift, thrust, and drag. Weight pulls the airplane down. Lift pulls the airplane up. Thrust moves the airplane forward. Drag pulls the airplane back. The same concepts that allow a commercial airplane to fly, cause a paper airplane to fly.
In this investigation, weight, lift, thrust, and drag are considered in an effort to determine which paper airplane flies the farthest.
weight:gravitational force; the force that causes an aircraft to go down
lift: the force that causes an aircraft to lift
thrust: the force that causes an aircraft to move forward
drag: the force that causes an aircraft to pull back
Weight, lift, thrust, and drag affect the flight of airplanes as well as paper airplanes.
- What makes paper airplanes fly?
- Does changing the way a paper airplane is folded, have an affect on the distance it flies?
- Locate directions for making three different types of paper airplanes. Some suggested resources are provided in the bibliography.
- Gather the necessary materials.
- Fold the three different paper airplanes according to the directions?
- Determine an indoor location such as a gymnasium or auditorium to fly the planes. Flying the planes inside will keep the wind from being a factor.
- Use masking tape to mark a starting point on the floor.
- Throw each plane four times. Measure the distance each plane flew and record the distances. Use a calculator to add the distances each airplane flew and divide by four to find the average distance.
Blackburn, Ken and Jeff Lammers. The World Record Paper Airplane Book. New York: Workman Publishing, 1994.
“Alex’s Paper Airplanes” at www.paperairplanes.co.uk
“Learn How to Make 10 Great Paper Airplane Designs with Free, Easy-to-Follow Animated Instructions!” at www.10paperairplanes.com
“The Science of Flight” at www.yesmag.ca/focus/flight/flight_science.html
“Flight” at pbskids.org
“The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age” at Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum website at www.nasm.si.edu/wrightbrothers
Disclaimer and Safety Precautions
Warning is hereby given that not all Project Ideas are appropriate for all individuals or in all circumstances. Implementation of any Science Project Idea should be undertaken only in appropriate settings and with appropriate parental or other supervision. Reading and following the safety precautions of all materials used in a project is the sole responsibility of each individual. For further information, consult your state's handbook of Science Safety.
Paper Airplane Experiment
To test and conclude the best designs for paper airplanes with respect to flight time, distance, and accuracy.
There are numerous designs of paper airplanes. Each design is unique and alters the plane's flight. Some are made for distance, others for flight time, and some for accuracy. We will test these different models to see what planes are really the best. Use designs that you know of or find online (www.bestpaperairplanes.com suggested).
- Several pieces of 8 1/2" x 11" paper
- Hula hoop
- Measuring tape
Safety Note: Be aware of others around you when you are throwing these airplanes. Some designs have a sharp nose and can fly very fast.
When you have all of your plane choices, guess which design will fly the farthest, for the longest time, and with the most accuracy.
- Make all of the paper airplanes that you plan on using
- In an open area with plenty of room to fly, throw all of the planes and record the distance that they flew. Repeat this until you have 10 trials for each plane.
- After you have finished with the distance, get your stopwatch for timed flight.
- Hold the stopwatch in one hand and the paper airplane in the other hand. Start the timer as you release the airplane from your other hand. Stop the timer as the plane hits the ground. Record the times and repeat until you have 10 trials for each plane.
- For the accuracy portion of the experiment, tie one end of the string to the hula hoop and the other end to something to hang from (basketball hoop, tree branch, etc.)
- Stand about 15-20 feet away from the hanging hula hoop.
- For each plane, throw it 50 times to try to get it to fly through the hula hoop. Record the number of times that each plane successfully makes it through the hula hoop.
- Try different throwing techniques during each procedure to find the best way to throw each plane for each aspect you are going for (ex: try throwing fast, slow, throw with some angle, etc.).
For the first and second parts of the procedure, average out the distances and times for each plane. Make three graphs: one with the distances for each plane, one for the times of each plane, and one for the number of times that each plane made it through the hula hoop. How do the results for each plane compare? Any exceptionally good or bad planes? Was your hypothesis correct? Why do you think the best planes performed as well as they did?
Can you create your own paper airplane design that is better than the planes that you used in the experiment? What if you were allowed to have attachments on the planes? What would work best to improve the results of any of the planes?