May 26

How to Make a Paper Airplane!

By: Laurie Stamp

In honor of National Paper Airplane Day, STEAMboat Studio thought we would show you how to build your own paper airplane, and learn the science behind it!

Everything that soars through the sky has to follow the four forces of flight. Each force acts on the paper airplane in a different way, and each is necessary for it to fly. If even one of these forces is too strong, or too weak, your aircraft won’t be able to fly!

The Four Forces of Flight are:

  • Thrust – The force that moves the paper airplane forward. This force is traditionally created by the engine, but for a paper airplane, the thrust force comes from the person throwing it.
  • Lift – The force that keeps the paper airplane in the sky. This is the force that keeps the paper airplane gliding through the air. 
  • Drag – This is the force that comes from friction between the paper airplane and the air around it. Drag is also affected by the mass and design of the aircraft. It is the force that slows down the paper airplane. The opposite of lift.
  • Weight – Also known as gravity! Gravity is a force that affects everything in our atmosphere, and pulls it toward the center of Earth. Lift and Thrust are needed to counteract the force of weight/gravity on your paper airplane. 

Things to consider: 

What type of material are you using? Is it thick? Thin? Heavy? Lightweight? How does that affect how your airplane flies?

Does the shape of the wing change how the airplane flies? How about how hard you throw it? 

Try adding a paperclip to the nose of your paper airplane. What happens? Does anything change?