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What Kind Of Paper Airplane Works Best?

based on 45 ratings
Author: Sharon Cooper
Type

Physics

Grade

Elementary School/Middle School

Difficulty of Project

Difficult

Cost

$76 (or $36 if you already own a small fan and metal shears)

Safety Issues

None

Material Availability

Available from hardware stores and art supply stores.

Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

A few days.

Objective

  • To build your own wind tunnel.
  • To test different models of paper airplane. 

Materials and Equipment / Ingredients

  • The following is needed to construct the wind tunnel (taken from the "Take Off!" project at the Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications):
  • A piece of furnace pipe about 4 feet long
  • A piece of pliofilm, acetate, or some other transparent material
  • Separations from an egg carton or similar separators
  • Scotch tape
  • A corrugated box, the same size as the egg-carton separators
  • A small electrical fan
  • Book-binding tape or similar adhesive tape
  • 2 small hooks with screw ends, the kind used for hanging cups
  • Metal shears
  • The following is needed for the creation of paper airplanes: Plans for different kinds of paper airplanes, paper 

Introduction

It is always fun to fly paper airplanes and see which goes the farthest. But how can one do so in a controlled environment? If you were to toss paper airplanes your the backyard, there could be all sorts of factors interfering with your data! The wind would not be exactly the same for all the airplanes; the throw would be different, etc. Using a wind tunnel, you can see exactly how well each airplane will fair. 

Research Questions

Which model of paper airplane will fly the longest? 

Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research
  • How does aviation work?
  • How do wind tunnels work?
  • What are the different kinds of paper airplane designs?
  • What makes an airplane fly? 

Experimental Procedure

  1. Using the procedure outlined on the following website, create a wind tunnel: http://www.fi.edu/flight/first/makesimple/index.html
  2. Construct a number of different models of paper airplane. You can vary these in a number of ways: By design (different ways of folding the paper) By weight (add pennies to different parts of the airplane)
  3. Suspend each paper airplane in the wind tunnel and turn on the fan.
  4. Time how long it takes for the airplane to sink to the bottom.
  5. Variation: Try changing the fan speed (if possible). How does this alter the results?

Bibliography

Make a Simple Wind Tunnel. Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications. 1996. http://www.fi.edu/flight/first/makesimple/index.html 

Airplane Collectible Net Resource. “Making Paper Airplane that Flies Like a Real One”. 2008. http://www.airplane-collectible-best-net-resource.com/paper-airplane.html 

What Makes Paper Airplanes Fly?  National Paper Airplane Home. Scholastic. 2010. http://teacher.scholastic.com/paperairplane/airplane.htm 

Wegner, Peter P. What Makes Airplanes Fly? Springer. New York: 1998.

 

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