The Science of Paper Airplanes (and how to make them)

Young or old, everyone loves to fly paper airplanes. Folding paper to form a glider and competing against other flyers is a tradition that has been around for decades. Paper planes teach us a lot about how real planes stay in the air. What makes a paper airplane fly? You do! With the help of aerodynamic forces: thrust, lift, gravity, and drag.



Aerodynamics is the study of the forces that make objects move in the air – like paper planes. Making one is an excellent way to demonstrate aerodynamics for kids.

Studying the motions of air around an object allows us to measure the forces of lift, which allows an aircraft to overcome gravity and drag. Everything moving through the air, including airplanes, rockets, and hummingbirds, is affected by aerodynamics.


Thrust is the force that moves an aircraft in a certain direction. If the plane has enough thrust and the wings are well designed, the plane will glide for a longer period of time.


Life is a force that acts on the wings and helps the plane to move up. The air that flows around the wings provides lift. Big wings provide greater lift.


The tail of the plane creates resistance and slows the plane down.


Gravity is the force that pulls the plane down. The right materials can create a lighter aircraft that stays up longer.

Other Aerodynamic Factors:

There are other factors that influence aerodynamics. The type of paper used can affect its weight and the amount of friction that exists. How the plan is designed can also vary aerodynamics tremendously. Try adding a paper clip to the back of the plane’s wings.


Watch the video below to learn how to make a paper airplane for yourself and compete with friends and family to see who can make theirs go the farthest.

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