For decades, paper airplane enthusiasts the world over have tried to construct vessels that will soar a hundred feet or more -- with varying degrees of success. While such a feat is far from impossible -- the world record is almost 227 feet -- design elements, launch style and weather conditions all can affect crucial aspects of long-distance flight like thrust, drag, gravitational pull and aerodynamic lift. However, assuming a neutral external environment, a design that takes into account the laws of physics has a greater likelihood of flying over a hundred feet than one that does not.
Things You'll Need
24 lb. inkjet paper, 8 1/2 by 11
Flat work surface
Building the Airplane
Fold the top left corner over to the right so that the top of the paper is flush with the right side. Place the thin edge of the ruler over the crease at a 45-degree angle. With medium pressure, move the ruler down the entire length of the crease to make it extra sharp, which increases aerodynamic efficiency. Unfold the paper.
Repeat Step 1 with the top right corner so that the top of the paper is flush with the left side. Unfold the paper to reveal an "X" pattern made by the creases.
Fold the top right corner to the left so that the right side of the paper is flush with the crease you made in Step 2. Fold the top left corner to the right along the crease you made in Step 1 so that the corner touches the right edge of the paper. This fold creates a nose about 1.5 inches across, which adds weight to the front of the plane and increases pitch stability.
Fold the paper perfectly in half lengthwise to create a middle crease, which is essential for a positive center of gravity during flight. Open it back up again.
Fold down the nose down so that it is flush with the tail of the plane -- the bottom of the paper. Fold the nose back up so that it protrudes about 1.25 inches from the top fold.
Fold the far left edge of the paper over so that it is flush with the left edge of the fold that creates the nose. Repeat this step with the right side. This creates 3/4-inch folds on each side that form the early stage of the wings.
Fold the 3/4-inch fold on the left in toward the center of the paper to create a left side of the plane that is flush from nose to tail. Repeat this step with the right side.
Fold the first 1.25 inches of the nose back toward the tail so the top of the nose is now flush with the front of the wing tips.
Fold the plane perfectly in half so that the inside tops of the wing tips touch. Create a sharp crease along the bottom of the fuselage.
Fold the left edge of the left wing in so that it aligns with the center crease. Repeat this step with the right side. Then allow the wings to fold back out so they are perpendicular with the fuselage. This leaves the plane with a weighted nose and a sleek low aspect ratio wing span that reduces drag and increases flying distance.
Flying the Airplane
Find a wide open space with little to no wind resistance and extremely low moisture levels.
Place a piece of masking tape at your start mark. Then use a measuring tape to measure 100 feet from that start mark. Place another piece of masking tape at the 100-foot mark.
Stand at the start mark, gripping the plane in the center of the fuselage. Throw it upward at a 45-degree angle toward the 100-foot mark with a generous amount of power behind the throw.
Assess the landing spot in comparison to the 100-foot mark. If the plane fell short, make minor adjustments, such as folding the wings slightly upward, changing the throwing angle or increasing the power of your throw. Repeat the process of throwing and modifying until the desired results are achieved.
Typically, the less precise your folds, the worse the plane will fly.
Use paper with colorful patterns or designs to give your plane a unique, original look.
Placing a paper clip at the front of the plane, secured with tape between the left and right folds that make up the nose, can increase both stability and upward elevation.
Launching your plane in extreme weather conditions such as high wind or humidity can adversely affect the height and distance your plane will fly.
- Paper Airplanes HQ: The Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes
- Welcome to Pat's Planes: Choosing the Best Paper for Paper Airplanes
- Ken Blackburn's Paper Airplanes: Paper Plane Aerodynamics
- All About Paper Planes: The Physics
- The New York Times Learning Network: Gliding High: Designing Paper Airplanes Based on the Physics of Flight