Facts About Paper Airplanes
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Paper Airplanes projects are excellent “hands-on” applications of different notions and theories regarding aircraft flight. If you already have some knowledge about the real plane’s design now is the time to put them in practice. If you are a beginner, it’s a good moment to ignite your child’s interest in aeronautics and set the base for further studies.
Working with paper airplanes will give your child the chance to explore, design, redesign, and even do independent study. If he is artistically talented, he will be excited to decorate the plane (avoid water-based paints). You can organize this project in many ways and use the following information according to your child’s age and familiarity with aerodynamics.
Paper Plane History
The use of paper airplanes is believed to have originated 2,000 years ago in China. The earliest known date of the creation of modern paper planes was said to have been in 1909. However, the most accepted version of the creation was two decades later in 1930 by Jack Northrop (Co-founder of Lockheed Corporation).
The design of paper models is an attractive pursuit, as the design of wings and other surfaces can be completely in-scale by tracing flight surfaces with precision. Further, CAD software can be used in plotting the shapes of wings, tailplanes, and other components for easy reproduction of parts for assembly.
With care, it is even possible to color in a model airframe before construction commences, or print patterns upon it during the process of reproduction.
Quick Facts about Paper Airplanes
- The oldest paper airplane was discovered in China in 190 AD!
- A paper plane holds the Guinness World Record for longest flight: 27.9 seconds!
- You can make paper planes out of pretty much any type of paper – from magazines to postcards!
- Paper airplanes come in all shapes and sizes, including ones that look like elephants, spiders, dragons, and helicopters!
- When folding your paper plane, precision is key – a difference of 1 mm can lead to a 25% decrease in flight time!
- The average paper airplane has an 11:1 lift-to-drag ratio, which is comparable to the Wright Brothers’ original 1903 flyer!
- Some paper airplanes have flown over 140 meters – that’s nearly 460 feet!
- Every year thousands of people gather to compete in paper airplane competitions around the world.
How do Paper airplanes fly?
When a plane flies, it moves through the air. In the absence of the air, the flight of an aircraft is impossible to be controlled. The layer of air that surrounds the earth is called the atmosphere and is composed of 78.09 percent nitrogen,20.05 percent oxygen, 0.93 percent argon, and 0.03 percent other gases. Air contains also water vapors and it is in constant motion due to the differences in temperature between different places on Earth.
Imagine that we live on a bottom of an ocean of air where the pressure decreases with altitude. The air has weight, which is expressed as pressure. The higher up in the “ocean” you go, the less air you have on top of you (low pressure).
There is a direct relation between the air properties and the wing design that you have to consider when you build a plane. There are four forces that act on a plane in flight:
- Thrust: the force, which pushes the plane forward through the air.
- Drag: the resistance the air exerts on the forward motion of a plane (drag oppose thrust)
- Weight: it pulls the plane down because the force of gravity
- Lift: the upward force that counteracts gravity and keeps the plane in the air.
When you will design your plane think about all these forces. Basically, your plane will glide through the air so one of the most important things you will have to consider is the shape of the wings. A good wing shape will provide a high lift/drag ratio, which is the same as the glide ratio (the distance a plane will glide divided by its altitude).
The weight of a plane divided by the surface area of the main wing is called the wing loading. Planes with high wing loads glide faster and have a high rate of descent than planes with low wing loads, which are good gliders. For example, the winning plane in the duration aloft category from the 1st International Paper Airplane Contest was essentially a sheet of paper folded in half.
For additional information and suggested experiments about some of the principles involved in flight check out our article on Lift.
Paper Planes experiments
Besides learning about paper airplanes and building them you can also do some simple experiments. The easiest is to build different models and see which one will fly further and which one will glide longer. Talk with the science teacher and organize a little contest at school. If you need more ideas and information about paper planes I recommend the excellent site of Ken Blackburn He currently holds a Guinness Book of World Record for time aloft for paper airplanes (27.6 seconds).
Here is a video tutorial that will help you build Ken Blackburn’s winning plane:
If you don`t know what paper airplane to use in your experiments, I will suggest doing a simple search on Google. You will find many websites that offer great plans and folding instructions so I will not waste your time here. Experiment with different designs and compare the results.
The new world record for the longest flight (27.9 sec) of a paper airplane was set by Taku Toda, a Japanese engineer. The design measured 10 cm from tip to tail and it’s made of a single sheet of folded paper with no cuts.
The flight took place at a competition in Hiroshima Prefecture in April and it was confirmed by Guinness World Records.
Mr. Toda is the head of the Japan Origami Airplane Association and his interest in paper airplanes started 30 years ago while it was in convalescence after a climbing accident while at university. He founded his association in 1980 and he managed to convince the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to invest 90 million yen(around 756,000 US dollars) in a three-year study of the feasibility of launching paper darts from the International Space Station back to Earth. The darts are expected to return in about a week and this experiment might provide new data about aerodynamics and the use of ultra-light materials in the design of spacecraft.