Paper Airplanes

3.5 based on 114 ratings

Updated on Oct 01, 2014


2nd – 4th grade

Difficulty of Project


Less than $5.00
Safety Issues
Material Availability

Readily available

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.

  • Directions for making paper airplanes
  • Paper
  • Tape
  • Masking tape
  • Measuring tape
  • Calculator

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.


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.

Research Questions
  • What makes paper airplanes fly?
  • Does changing the way a paper airplane is folded, have an affect on the distance it flies?

  1. Locate directions for making three different types of paper airplanes. Some suggested resources are provided in the bibliography.
  2. Gather the necessary materials.
  3. Fold the three different paper airplanes according to the directions?
  4. 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.
  5. Use masking tape to mark a starting point on the floor.
  6. 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

“Learn How to Make 10 Great Paper Airplane Designs with Free, Easy-to-Follow Animated Instructions!” at

“The Science of Flight” at


“Flight” at

“The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age” at Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum website at

Nancy Rogers Bosse has been involved in education for over forty years à first as a student, then as a teacher, and currently as a curriculum developer. For the last fifteen years she has combined a career in freelance curriculum development with parenthood à another important facet of education and probably the most challenging. Nancy lives in Henderson, Nevada with husband and their three teenagers.

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