Whether you are throwing a paper airplane at the teacher or in an official competition for the Guiness Book of World Records, there is a science to the process. According to Ken Blackburn, past paper airplane world record holder, flying a paper airplane is a lot like flying a real airplane. If you want your folded craft to fly longer and further, you need the right preparation, proper throwing technique, and a little knowledge of flight itself.
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Before you can set your paper airplane into flight, you must first make sure the plane is folded properly. A simple plane with no tail section is recommended by Ken Blackburn. While there are some more advanced styles of airplanes that can be created, the simple long triangle shape is easiest and quickest to create. You want to make sure the folds are even and balanced on both sides. The paper you choose should be medium weight. If too light it is likely to just float to the ground. If too heavy you will not be able to throw it as far. The creases in the folds should also be tight to make your airplane more aerodynamic.
Before you throw your airplane, you want to make sure you are holding it in the right spot. The key is to find the center of gravity on your plane. This spot is not always in the very middle. The best place to hold your airplane is more towards the back, just a bit away from the very center. The plane will be a little heavier here with the wider spread of wings. Pinch it lightly with your thumb and index finger. Regardless of what shape you use to create your airplane, holding it properly before throwing can make a big difference in flight distance and time.
Once you have the proper grip locations of your paper airplane, the launch is key as to where your plane will go, how far, and for how long. For most people, the goal is to keep your airplane aloft for as long as possible. To achieve this, you want to throw your airplane according to the shape. If your plane has fat wings and is short, then you can throw this plane hard to give it speed for long distance. If you have a long plane with a thinner wing span, you want to throw this plane with your hand up high. Keep the plane level so that it can catch an air current without turning too much. If you throw it straight up, it will not go very far, but it may stay in the air for awhile. If you throw your airplane straight down, it will not catch any air currents and will likely nosedive into the ground. Each plane is a little different, so it will take practice to get just the right launching technique.
Just like real airplanes, in order for it to travel far it needs to ascends into the air currents. An airplane that travels far and stays aloft longer is one that acts more like a glider than an airplane. Your throwing motion is what gives it momentum, but it is the ability to stay up above the air current that makes it float. So if your plane is smooth and your throw is right, your plane should ascend and then ride an air current for awhile before gravity takes over. Your plane should maintain the same speed throughout the flight for maximum distance.