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The Science Behind Paper Airplanes

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. This record was accomplished on February 26, 2012 in North Highlands, California by John M. Collins and Joe Ayoob. In order to achieve a flight of this length, one must learn about various designs and how they work with the different forces affecting flight.

Paper Airplane Designs

Most kids, at some point, have had their parents make them paper airplanes or they learned how to make their own. There are various different designs which each cause the plane to fly differently. For instance, planes which are longer and balanced will fly longer, but those that are shorter and heavier in the front will barely fly at all. There’s scientific reasoning behind this which is explained further below. These links will direct you to websites which offer instructions for different paper airplanes. Try a few or try them all. You can even be creative and design something completely different from the ones shown. The key to making a great paper airplane is to experiment. Perhaps you will design one that beats the record by the current record holders for the farthest flight with a paper airplane.


The air around you is one thing that helps a paper airplane fly. When you move your hands through the air, you are able to feel the air on and around your hands, like you’re slicing right through it. Your hand is able to move more easily through the air at certain angles. The aerodynamics of a paper airplane will determine the distance and ease at which it flies. The aerodynamics of the plane will need to have little drag and be light enough to defy gravity. Paper airplanes also use the forces of lift and thrust. When these four forces are used in balance, paper airplanes will fly longer. Many people do not consider the science behind what makes a paper airplane fly, but this can be a great way to help kids not only learn, but enjoy science.

Science Experiments

There are various ways to fold paper into airplanes and each may have different flights. For instance, an airplane that has balance of lift, thrust, gravity, and drag will fly longer whereas a plane that with little or no balance will have shorter flights or may possibly nose dive straight to the floor. Using your newfound knowledge of paper airplane aerodynamics, you can do science experiments. Use various types of paper and various paper airplane designs to test which type of paper or airplane design flies the best. You can then determine what forces were at work with the individual designs that may have caused the long or short flights. The links below will direct you to some paper airplane science experiments for you to try. These can be used by parents and teachers to help children with learning. Try one of these paper plane science experiments for your next school science fair.