Paper Airplane Science

6-8 Team students recently participated in a live class via video conferencing on the science of paper airplanes. Students were encouraged to explore various airplane designs – including one using drinking straws and paper hoops – and explore how the flight of their planes changed based on design, size, thrust, and more.

Four forces act on a paper airplane:

  1. Thrust – the force that propels their airplane (your arm);
  2. Drag – the friction between the plane and the air, slowing the plane down;
  3. Lift – the force that causes the plane to go up;
  4. Gravity –  the force that causes the plane to go down

Mr. Kennedy demonstrated how to fold a dart paper airplane, probably the most iconic paper airplane design and one of the easiest to fold. As your paper airplane “takes off,” consider the four forces impacting its flight. Then test:

  • If you throw the airplane hard and fast (with a lot of thrust) what happens?
  • If you gently throw the airplane, how does its flight differ?
  • If you make the airplane out of a half sheet of a paper vs. a full piece of paper, do their flights differ?

**  Record your observations on paper!

Extension #1: offers various paper airplane designs ranging from “easy” to “expert.” Try four different designs and record how they differ in terms of distance, time aloft, acrobatic, and decorative.

Extension #2: Make a Straw and Paper Airplane. If you change the lengths of the straws or the size of the paper hoops, how does the flight of the airplane change?

Extension #3: Mr. Loar showed how to make a paper whirlybird. Drop the whirybird from a safe high place, such as by standing on a chair or a step stool; observe how it falls. Add a paper clip to the bottom part of the whirlybird and drop it again; do you notice a change? Add additional paper clips and record your results

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