Most of us grew up making paper airplanes in school. We might have even tried a variety of crazy folds without fully realizing how they affected the plane. As adults, we can dive into the science of paper airplanes and learn exactly what we should do to build the perfect plane. As it turns out, there’s quite a bit of variety available. Not only in terms of efficiency and flight time but also the difficulty of building the plane.
Learning how to make paper planes is much easier once you understand the various aspects of the plane itself. There are many similarities between real airplanes and their paper-bound cousins. Let’s look at some of the science behind these aircraft.
The Four Forces At Work
There are four separate forces at work on a paper airplane. These are the same forces at work on actual airplanes. They are referred to as aerodynamic forces. The forces are as follows:
Thrust is applied the moment you throw the plane forward. The harder you throw the plane the more thrust that it has. Thrust is an important part of the process, but it’s by no means the most important. If that were the case, then simply throwing a piece of paper as hard as you could would result in excellent flight time.
It’s the second force that plays a big role in how well the plane operates. That force is known as lift. Lift is a force that acts on the bottom of the plane’s wings. It is what causes the plane to move upward and away from the ground. A plane with larger wings is going to have an increased lift.
The third force is working directly against the lift. It is a force that we are all familiar with: gravity. As you can imagine, gravity is constantly pulling the plane back to the ground.
The final force is working opposite of thrust. It’s known as drag. It is what slows the paper airplane down and may cause to begin its decent prematurely.
Using This Information To Build A Plane
The design of your plane is going to influence how these four forces affect the plane. As mentioned earlier, you can increase the application of lift by increasing the size of the wings. However, larger wings require more paper. More paper will increase the weight of the plane which going to increase the impact of gravity. Thrust is primarily influenced by the throw, but you can reduce the impact of drag by ensuring the plane has a sharp point and plenty of folds.
Trial and error is the best tool available when it comes to learning how to build the perfect paper plane. Experiment with various wing sizes, body shapes, and locations of folds. There are plenty of experts who believe they have perfected the process, but you may very well surpass them all if you aren’t afraid to experiment. Once you’ve mastered your own unique paper plane share it with the world or enter a few competitions.