2nd – 4th grade
Difficulty of Project
Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project
One to two hours to make the paper airplanes and collect the data; one day to prepare the science fair display.
To understand forces that cause paper airplanes to fly and determine which type of paper airplane flies the farthest.
Materials and Equipment
- Directions for making paper airplanes
- Masking tape
- Measuring tape
Four forces are at work to make an airplane fly: weight, lift, thrust, and drag. Weight pulls the airplane down. Lift pulls the airplane up. Thrust moves the airplane forward. Drag pulls the airplane back. The same concepts that allow a commercial airplane to fly, cause a paper airplane to fly.
In this investigation, weight, lift, thrust, and drag are considered in an effort to determine which paper airplane flies the farthest.
Terms, Concepts, and Questions to Start Background Research
weight: gravitational force; the force that causes an aircraft to go down
lift: the force that causes an aircraft to lift
thrust: the force that causes an aircraft to move forward
drag: the force that causes an aircraft to pull back
Weight, lift, thrust, and drag affect the flight of airplanes as well as paper airplanes.
- What makes paper airplanes fly?
- Does changing the way a paper airplane is folded, have an affect on the distance it flies?
- Locate directions for making three different types of paper airplanes. Some suggested resources are provided in the bibliography.
- Gather the necessary materials.
- Fold the three different paper airplanes according to the directions?
- Determine an indoor location such as a gymnasium or auditorium to fly the planes. Flying the planes inside will keep the wind from being a factor.
- Use masking tape to mark a starting point on the floor.
- Throw each plane four times. Measure the distance each plane flew and record the distances. Use a calculator to add the distances each airplane flew and divide by four to find the average distance.
Blackburn, Ken and Jeff Lammers. The World Record Paper Airplane Book. New York: Workman Publishing, 1994.
“Alex’s Paper Airplanes” at www.paperairplanes.co.uk
“Learn How to Make 10 Great Paper Airplane Designs with Free, Easy-to-Follow Animated Instructions!” at www.10paperairplanes.com
“The Science of Flight” at www.yesmag.ca/focus/flight/flight_science.html
“Flight” at pbskids.org
“The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age” at Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum website at www.nasm.si.edu/wrightbrothers
Warning is hereby given that not all Project Ideas are appropriate for all individuals or in all circumstances. Implementation of any Science Project Idea should be undertaken only in appropriate settings and with appropriate parental or other supervision. Reading and following the safety precautions of all materials used in a project is the sole responsibility of each individual. For further information, consult your state’s handbook of Science Safety.