How Far Will It Fly? Build and Test Various Paper Planes

Just one sheet of paper can lead to a whole lot of fun. How? Paper planes! All you have to know is how to fold and you can have a simple plane in a matter of minutes! But what kind of paper should you use to build the best plane? In this aerodynamics science project, you will experiment with different kinds of paper and see how far each kind of paper plane flies. There is a lot of cool science in this project, so get ready to start folding!

To see if the distance that a paper plane flies depends on the kind of paper used.

Paper airplanes are fun and easy to make. Just fold a piece of paper into a simple plane and send it soaring into the sky with a flick of your wrist. Watching it float and glide in the air gives you a very satisfying and happy feeling. But what allows the paper plane to glide through the air? And why does a paper plane finally land? Let’s talk about the science behind flying a paper plane and the different forces that get a paper plane to fly and land. These same forces apply to real airplanes, too. A force is something that pushes or pulls on something else.

PaperPlane Fly

When you throw a paper plane in the air, you are giving the plane a push to start moving. That push is a type of force called thrust. So the plane is now flying through the air, but how does it stay up? Well, air is moving over and under the wings and is providing a force called lift to the plane. If the wings of the paper plane are properly designed, the paper plane will have a nice long flight. But there is more than poor wing design that gets a paper plane to come back to Earth. As a paper plane moves through the air, the air pushes against the plane, slowing it down. This force is called drag. Finally, the weight of the paper plane affects its flight and brings it to a landing. Weight is the force of Earth’s gravity acting on the paper plane.

Well, what do you think? How would you like to start experimenting with these forces? In this aerodynamics science project, you will fold airplanes from three different kinds of paper and see which paper airplane flies the farthest. You will use printer paper, construction paper, and newspaper or newsprint. These papers are different from each other in a few ways. For example, construction paper is rougher than printer paper or newspaper. The weight of each paper is also different. Because of these differences, the forces that act on each plane are different. How far do you think your planes will fly? Will the planes fly straight or will they fly in a loop? You can answer these questions with just a flick of your wrist.

Terms, Concepts, and Questions to Start Background Research

  • Force
  • Thrust
  • Lift
  • Drag
  • Weight
  • Gravity
  • Data
  • Vertical
  • Accurate


  • What is gravity and how does it affect airplane flight?
  • What are the different parts of an actual airplane’s wings?
  • What provides thrust to a real airplane?

Materials and Equipment

  • Printer paper (5 sheets)
  • Construction paper (5 sheets)
  • Newspaper (5 pages)
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Masking tape (1 roll)
  • Tape measure
  • Lab notebook

Experimental Procedure

Important Information About the Paper: Making paper is an art and a science, and can be complicated. From the scientific point of view, paper can be described using many variables, including smoothness, strength, and weight. One way to measure the weight of paper is in units of grams per square meter (GSM) orgrammage. The grammage of newspaper can vary between about 40 GSM and 57 GSM. The grammage for printer paper is about 75 GSM and the grammage of construction paper is between 100 and 130 GSM. This means that newspaper is the lightest of the three papers, and construction paper is the heaviest.


Flying the Planes

  1. Look through paper plane pattern books and websites, such as the ones listed in the Bibliography, above, to find a plane pattern that you are interested in making. You should use a pattern that is designed to fly pretty far. You can try a simple design first, like the “basic dart” or the “ballybutton glider.”
  2. Now prepare the different papers (five sheets of each different type of paper). You should make all three types of paper the same size, 8 ½ inches by 11 inches. Use the rulers and scissors to measure and cut the three types of papers to the right size.
  3. Using the pattern you selected in step 1, fold each piece of paper into a paper airplane. In the end, you’ll have 15 paper airplanes (five for each type of paper). They should all look identical, except for the type of paper used to make them. Make sure that you fold carefully and that your folds are as sharp as possible.
  4. Make five groups of planes, where each group includes a plane made from each of the different papers.
    1. For example, Group 1 should have a printer paper airplane, a construction paper airplane, and a newspaper airplane, for a total of three planes.
  5. Go to a large area to fly the different planes. Make sure that there isn’t any foot or car traffic at the area. A long hallway or your school gym is a good location. If you are flying your planes outside, like in a baseball field or on a basketball court, try to do your experiment on a day when there isn’t any wind.
  6. Tear off a 5-foot-long piece of masking tape and tape it to the ground. This will be the starting line from which you will fly the paper planes. If you are doing this science project in a field, you could use a line of rocks to mark the starting point.
  7. First make a table in your lab notebook, like the one below, where you can record the data you get from your experiment.
GroupFor each flight, write down which airplane (construction paper, printer paper, or newspaper) went the farthest, and the total distance it flew:
Flight 1Flight 2Flight 3Flight 4Flight 5Flight 6Flight 7Flight 8Flight 9Flight 10
 Table 1.
  1. Practice throwing or launching the paper planes. You need to be able to launch the planes in exactly the same way every time. Hold the different planes at exactly the same spot on the plane every time you launch a plane.
  2. Once you have finished practicing, it is time to start the experiment. Place your toe on the mark you prepared earlier and then throw a plane from the first group of planes. Repeat this with the other planes in the group. Note down in your lab notebook which plane flew the farthest, and the distance it flew. To measure the distance, use the measuring tape and measure the vertical distance from the mark to the tip of the plane.
  3. Fly the planes from group 1 nine more times. Before you fly each plane, make sure that the plane is in good condition and that the folds and points are still sharp. Write down in your lab notebook which plane flew the farthest, and the distance it flew each time. If there is a tie, record that in your lab notebook, too.
  4. Repeat steps 9–10 with the four other groups of paper planes. Doing these repeats will ensure that your data is accurate. Always remember to record your data in your lab notebook.

Analyzing Your Data

  1. Now examine the data you collected in Table 1, above. Starting with Group 1, count how many times each type of plane flew the farthest. For each group of planes, count how times each plane flew the farthest. Record this data in a table like the one shown below.
GroupNumber of times each plane flew the farthest
Printer Paper PlaneConstruction Paper PlaneNewspaper Print Plane
 Table 2.
  1. Plot the data from Table 2 on a bar chart. You can plot your data by hand or you can plot your data online at Create A Graph. Label the x-axis Group and the y-axis Number of Times Plane Went the Furthest. For each group you will have four bars, one for each type of plane and one for the number of ties. You should skip a bar if it went the farthest 0 times.
  2. What does your plot tell you? Which kind of paper is better to use for paper planes? Are they equally good? Go back to the Important Information at the beginning of the Experimental Procedure section. Does your experiment show any relationship between the grammage (weight) of paper and how far an airplane made from that paper can fly?
  3. Now that you’ve determined what the best type of paper for paper planes is, look back at your data. What was the farthest flight distance you recorded for a plane made from that type of paper?


  • Plot the average distance each type of plane flies. Is there a large difference between the distances that each type of plane flies? Hint: If you don’t know how to calculate an average, ask your teacher or another adult to show you.
  • Does size matter? Make planes of different sizes but keep the type of paper you use the same. Do bigger planes fly further?
  • Do more complicated planes fly further? In order words, does the number of folds that you use to make a paper plane affect the distance that it flies?

Originally posted 2012-03-26 03:52:29. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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