Paper Airplane Science Project Bibliography

Time RequiredVery Short (≤ 1 day)
Material Availability Readily available
CostVery Low (under $20)
SafetyFly your planes in a large area, away from foot and vehicle traffic.


Just one sheet of paper can lead to a whole lot of fun. How? Paper planes! All you have to know is how to fold and you can have a simple plane in a matter of minutes! But what design should you use to build the best plane? In this aerodynamics science project, you will change the basic design of a paper plane and see how this affects its flight. Specifically, you will increase how much drag the plane experiences and see if this changes how far the paper plane flies. There is a lot of cool science in this project, such as how the different forces allow a plane to fly, so get ready to start folding!


Determine whether the distance a paper plane flies is affected by increasing how much drag it experiences.


Michelle Maranowski, PhD, Science Buddies
Teisha Rowland, PhD, Science Buddies

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "How Far Will It Fly? Build & Test Paper Planes with Different Drag" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 1 Mar. 2018. Web. 10 Mar. 2018 <>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2018, March 1). How Far Will It Fly? Build & Test Paper Planes with Different Drag. Retrieved March 10, 2018 from

Last edit date: 2018-03-01

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Paper airplanes are fun and easy to make. Just fold a piece of paper into a simple plane and send it soaring into the sky with a flick of your wrist. Watching it float and glide in the air gives you a very satisfying and happy feeling.

But what allows the paper plane to glide through the air? And why does a paper plane finally land? To find out, we will talk about the science behind flying a paper plane and the different forces that get a paper plane to fly and land. These same forces apply to real airplanes, too. A force is something that pushes or pulls on something else. When you throw a paper plane in the air, you are giving the plane a push to move forward. That push is a type of force called thrust. While the plane is flying forward, air is moving over and under the wings and is providing a force called lift to the plane. If the paper plane has enough thrust and the wings are properly designed, the plane will have a nice long flight.

But there is more than lack of thrust and poor wing design that gets a paper plane to come back to Earth. As a paper plane moves through the air, the air pushes against the plane, slowing it down. This force is called drag. To think about drag, imagine you are in a moving car and you put your hand outside of the window. The force of the air pushing your hand back as you move forward is drag. Finally, the weight of the paper plane affects its flight and brings it to a landing. Weight is the force of Earth's gravity acting on the paper plane. Figure 1 below shows how all four of these forces, thrust, lift, drag, and weight, act upon a paper plane.

Figure 1. When a paper plane is flying, the four forces of thrust, lift, drag, and weight are acting upon the plane, affecting how well its journey through the air goes.

Well, what do you think? Would you like to start experimenting with these forces? In this aerodynamics science project, you will make a basic paper plane and then slightly alter its shape to increase how much drag is acting on it. You will investigate how far the basic paper plane flies and compare that to how far it flies when the drag is increased. How will adding drag affect your plane's flight? You can answer this question with just a flick of your wrist.

Terms and Concepts

  • Force
  • Thrust
  • Lift
  • Drag
  • Weight
  • Gravity
  • Data
  • Vertical
  • Accurate
  • Wind Tunnel
  • Computer Simulation
  • Turbulence
  • Streamlines


  • What is drag and how does it affect airplane flight?
  • How do you think you could change how much drag a paper plane has?
  • What provides thrust to a real airplane?


These sites explain how paper planes and airplanes fly.

The following paper plane pattern is used in this science project.

The following resource can be used to convert inches and feet to metric units (i.e., centimeters and meters):

For help creating graphs, try this website:

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If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

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Aerospace Engineering & Operations Technician

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians are essential to the development of new aircraft and space vehicles. They build, test, and maintain parts for air and spacecraft, and assemble, test, and maintain the vehicles as well. They are key members of a flight readiness team, preparing space vehicles for launch in clean rooms, and on the launch pad. They also help troubleshoot launch or flight failures by testing suspect parts. Read more


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News Feed on This Topic

Note: A computerized matching algorithm suggests the above articles. It's not as smart as you are, and it may occasionally give humorous, ridiculous, or even annoying results! Learn more about the News Feed


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Paper Airplane Experiment


To test and conclude the best designs for paper airplanes with respect to flight time, distance, and accuracy.


Procedure: Easy

Concept: Easy


There are numerous designs of paper airplanes. Each design is unique and alters the plane's flight. Some are made for distance, others for flight time, and some for accuracy. We will test these different models to see what planes are really the best. Use designs that you know of or find online ( suggested).


  • Several pieces of 8 1/2" x 11" paper
  • Scissors
  • Hula hoop
  • String
  • Stopwatch
  • Measuring tape

Safety Note: Be aware of others around you when you are throwing these airplanes. Some designs have a sharp nose and can fly very fast.


When you have all of your plane choices, guess which design will fly the farthest, for the longest time, and with the most accuracy.


  1. Make all of the paper airplanes that you plan on using
  2. In an open area with plenty of room to fly, throw all of the planes and record the distance that they flew. Repeat this until you have 10 trials for each plane.
  3. After you have finished with the distance, get your stopwatch for timed flight.
  4. Hold the stopwatch in one hand and the paper airplane in the other hand. Start the timer as you release the airplane from your other hand. Stop the timer as the plane hits the ground. Record the times and repeat until you have 10 trials for each plane.
  5. For the accuracy portion of the experiment, tie one end of the string to the hula hoop and the other end to something to hang from (basketball hoop, tree branch, etc.)
  6. Stand about 15-20 feet away from the hanging hula hoop.
  7. For each plane, throw it 50 times to try to get it to fly through the hula hoop. Record the number of times that each plane successfully makes it through the hula hoop.
  8. Try different throwing techniques during each procedure to find the best way to throw each plane for each aspect you are going for (ex: try throwing fast, slow, throw with some angle, etc.).


For the first and second parts of the procedure, average out the distances and times for each plane. Make three graphs: one with the distances for each plane, one for the times of each plane, and one for the number of times that each plane made it through the hula hoop. How do the results for each plane compare? Any exceptionally good or bad planes? Was your hypothesis correct? Why do you think the best planes performed as well as they did?


Can you create your own paper airplane design that is better than the planes that you used in the experiment? What if you were allowed to have attachments on the planes? What would work best to improve the results of any of the planes?

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