What Makes Your Paper Plane Fly?

If you imagine all of the technology that goes into making one of the big jetliners fly, you can apply much of that same knowledge to making your next paper airplane soar through the air.Whether it is a Boeing 747 or your paper dart plane the same forces are applied to each of them, and the same theories apply to making it fly.

This is what the Wright Brothers figured out way back in 1908 at Kitty Hawk, N.C. when they sent their first airplane into the air. The flight was only a few second long, but it paved the way for the rest of aviations history. Lift is what keeps an airplane in the air.


It continues to put pressure on the wings that keep it aloft. Here‘s how it works: You can have two types of air pressure œ high pressure and low pressure. How these react with one another determine whether an airplane flies or not.When a plane gathers speed, the air rushes over the top of the wing and the pressure of that air drops. The higher pressure underneath the wing moves up to try and fill the low pressure areas, boosting the airplane into flight.

Drag is exactly how it sounds œ it slows something down that is in the air. Despite the fact that we can walk through it with relative ease and never really slow down, things that fly through the air deal with a great deal of air resistance.

When you think about it, if you have ever tried walking outside when there is a brisk wind, you understand that it has a huge effect on the effort it takes to walk. In order to make up for drag, you need to create a path of least resistance in the air œ that means your airplane needs to be streamlined so the drag doesn‘t have a dramatic effect on how far it flies.


With any flight model, there are three types of stability involved œ pitch, directional and spiral stability. They all have an effect on how well your paper airplane will fly.

Pitch stability
When we talk about pitch, this means how its wings are positioned in relation to a straight horizontal line. Most commercial aircraft have a pitch monitor that shows them exactly the line of their wings while they are in the air.

You, unfortunately don‘t have that kind of technology in your paper airplane, so you will have to rely on your sight to see how you are doing with your pitch. Obviously, this type of stability will affect how your paper airplane banks through the air. This can seriously affect the success of your overall flight.

I find one of the most frustrating things about flying a paper airplane with pitch problems is that it over banks and ends up flying upside down, with the nose eventually dragging it to the ground in a fiery heap. Needless to say, those paper airplanes quickly find the wastebasket. Then I tell myself, —everybody makes a bad plane once in a while.

Directional Stability
This is the ability of a paper airplane to hold its intended course. Now, one might say that a paper airplane hardly has an intended course, but you do want it to get from point A to point B œ rather than getting off track. There are many things that can affect the directional stability of your paper airplane. Things you may not realize œ like the way the air is flowing through your house.

You are probably wondering, —what air flowing?“ Air has a direction everywhere, except in a vacuum. This is going to have an effect on how your paper airplane flies. Obviously if there is a tremendous crosswind, you are going to just turn 90-degrees and throw it with or against the wind (depending on how strong the wind is).

Spiral Stability
This is the second most frustrating thing when you make paper airplanes. My son is going through this right now.
You build what you think is a great paper airplane, and when you through it, all it does is spiral to the ground.
Spinning out of control, you scratch your head and wonder why. This happen when there is an imbalance of pressure on one wing over another.

The same thing would happen to commercial airliners if they had one wing that was wider that the other, or if there was a wing longer than another. If you have more lift on one side than you do on another, you are going to go into a spiral. This is a common problem for paper airplane flyers.

How do I fix these problems?
There is one firm answer œ symmetry. If you want to build an airplane that is the envy of everyone you know, then it needs to be next to perfect in its symmetry. For those who don‘t know what symmetry is, here is what I mean. If you were to take something and cut it in half, both sides would identical. That is symmetry. Simple enough.

Symmetry is so important in making your airplane work. Two of the three above stability problems can be avoided with symmetry œ Pitch and Spiral. Rule number one! Always make sure every fold you make and every crease you press makes the other side look identical to the other. You can avoid all sorts of paper airplane problems if you take the time to be meticulous about your planes.

You don‘t want to be sloppy and just whip something together to toss around the place. You will get frustrated by the fact that you are wasting paper each time you don‘t take the care to build the plane properly.

Rising air
If you are looking for some long distance flights for your paper airplane, you are going to need to find a way to keep it aloft over a long period of time. Have you ever wondered how a glider can stay in the air for hours on end? It takes advantage of updrafts in the atmosphere called thermals. Thermals are pockets of air that warm on the ground and rise straight up to the sky. It creates currents that lift your gliding plane into the air, and keep it up there as long as the drafts are being created.

The effect the thermals have on a paper airplane can be quite dramatic, considering that nearly 28 seconds is quite a long time to stay in the air just by throwing an airplane from your hand. You need to have some science behind keeping it in the air that long, and thermals are likely one way of doing that. For paper airplanes, you can find the best thermals on blacktop surfaces, like playgrounds or parking lots.

The reason this is so, is because the black surface heats up quickly, and the hot air near the surface of the ground rises œ creating the great thermals you need to keep your paper plane in the air. Another way that airplanes can find a longer flight path is on the crest of a hill. Air currents typically lift upward when they reach the top of a hill.
This can create good lift for your paper airplanes.

But this is only a paper airplane! It may seem like this is pretty technical information just to build a paper airplane. But, if you understand the forces that act upon the airplane, then it is only going to help you when you go to build your plane.

No matter if it is a glider, a jet aircraft, a fighter, or a paper airplane, if these things aren‘t taken into consideration you aren‘t going to have an aircraft that flies very well. Fortunately, you have the luxury of starting from scratch and building another plane that works œ the other planes don‘t!

Originally posted 2015-04-09 09:11:48. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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