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Effect Of Design On Paper Plane

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Engineering
Wordcount: 3890 words Published: 31st May 2017

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I have decided to write my extended essay on this topic because this activity of flying paper planes was taught to us in our childhood when we were not mature enough to learn the principles of science and investigate and apply them to these planes. But what caught my interest was that how do paper airplanes of such light weights can maintain their flight and speed even while facing winds and other external factors. Firstly, I had decided to write my essay based on the principles used in these planes, but my supervisor guided me that it was too broad and thus, I narrowed down my topic to- ‘To investigate the difference in the flight of the paper planes and the distance covered by it due to the shape, mass and design of the paper planes.’

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Paper airplanes are a source of fun and entertainment for many people while they can also be used as a part of learning and gaining some amount of knowledge about the real aeroplanes. Some people have also named this activity as an art named aerogami which derives from the name origami (a Japanese art of paper folding). But, this so called entertaining and competitive activity has a lot of science especially physics related to it as we can associate with different laws of aerodynamics and motion. Paper airplanes have designs ranging from simple planes for kids to competitive and complex ones like moth, tumbler, spike and many more to mention. As kids, we never used to think about these principles and designs that are associated with every part of paper planes from its formation to its flight. But, as a science student, I have got an opportunity to explore the various aerodynamic principles and get a deeper knowledge about the physics of paper planes.


The history of paper planes is not quite specific as there have been many people who have contributed their theories in this field. Da Vinci who was a famous Italian personality is often regarded as the inventor of paper airplanes while some have the belief that Chinese people are the real makers of this art as they were the ones who invented paper and kites. The modern paper planes saw their creation in the year 1909 while its acceptance was seen in after two decades in the year 1930 by John Northrop. Actually, Northrop tried these designs in order to test the real principles of flying aircrafts. From the early centuries till the current years, there have been many changes and corrections made in the structure of paper planes such as in their shape, style, fashion and lift. Thus, the paper airplanes have seen a lot of modifications in their shape and principles over these years and this credit goes to each and every person who has contributed to it though the history is not quite famous or known.

Aerodynamics and Paper Airplanes:

Aerodynamics is referred to as the branch of mechanics that deals with the motion of air and other gases and with the effects of such motion on bodies in the medium. Aero planes and helicopters follow the principles and theorems of this study of science and this is the case in the working of the paper plane models. The various principles that are used in this study and more specifically in the working of paper planes are drag, lift, flight, thrust, weight and velocity. But I will be concentrating more on the flight of these paper planes in regard with my topic.

Lift, thrust, weight (gravity) and drag are the four important factors in the working and the distance covered by paper airplanes.


Thrust is the force on the horizontal left hand side of the paper airplane which decides the flight of the paper plane and this force comes from the strength of the pilot (in this case the person throwing or flying the paper plane). While taking flight, this altitude is converted into forward motion, which results in the proper flight of the airplane.


Lift is another force on the vertical upper hand side of the paper airplane. Usually, the air below the wing of the airplane push the air on the upper side and the air above the wing push the air on the lower direction. At this point when the lower air pressure is much harder than the upper one, then the airplane is able to fly. And also the wings of the airplane are curved which allows the air to move over the top more quickly, thus resulting in lift or upward push.


Drag is the force that is present in the horizontal right hand side of the paper airplane which allows or decides the maximum distance of any paper airplane. A plane is said to have a lot of drag when the plane pushes a lot of air, in which the paper airplane does not fly more distance. But when the drag is as low as possible the plane is able to cover more distance due to the low amount of air pressure in the horizontal direction. Drag can be compared to the friction present on the surface when any object is moving.

Weight (gravity) –

Weight or gravity is the force that covers the vertical lower hand side of the paper airplane. The airplane’s weight must also be less so that it can fight the attraction of gravitation and thus, the plane will be able to fly more distance in the air. The greater the weight, the more the attraction and the lesser the distance covered.

Thus, these are the four crucial principles that have to be observed for any paper airplane to fly in the air. But, are only these principles responsible for the flight of the airplane? Are there any other factors that are also important in deciding the flight of a paper airplane? Do the physical quantities or the structure of the airplane play a major role in planning the flight or the distance covered?

In order to research and find out whether there are any other principles related to the flying of airplanes that are made out of paper, I have performed an experiment that brings out the result whether the shape, weight and the structure play an important role in determining the flight of the paper airplane.


Aim: To determine the relation between the designs, type of paper used in the paper plane and the flight or the distance covered by the paper plane.


I had the initial idea that the paper planes that are lighter in weight cover more distance as they have the capacity to move in the air with the force or the pressure of the wind. And I also felt that the paper airplane of design ‘Moth’ will cover the largest distance as I have experimented and used this design many times for its smooth kind of flying. I usually thought that the type of paper and design are both equally important for the flight of paper planes.


Dependent variable- The distance that the paper planes covers is the dependent variable.

Independent variable- The type of paper used and the designs of the paper planes are the independent variables.

Controlled variable- The force with which the person throws the paper planes can be controlled and also the height and the direction in which the paper planes are thrown are controlled.

Uncontrolled variable- the force of gravity and the drag in the air acting on the paper planes are uncontrolled. Also, external factors such as wind, dust particles cannot be controlled.


7 X Meter scale/ Ruler of 100 cm

1 X Chalk

5 X Paper planes of different designs made up of cardboard paper

5 X Paper planes of different designs made up of A-4 size normal paper

5 X Paper planes of different designs made up of hand-made paper

1 X Analytical balance

Note: The paper planes used in the experiment must be of 5 different designs but these designs must be used throughout for every kind of paper used.


1. Make the following paper airplanes with the following types of paper-

Design of paper airplane

Type of paper

Type of paper

Type of paper





A-4 size normal paper




A-4 size normal paper

Flying fish



A-4 size normal paper




A-4 size normal paper




A-4 size normal paper

Note that the flaps or the wings of the paper planes must be folded in the upward direction.

2. Gather all the apparatus needed to perform the experiment and select a wide, open and a large area without any obstacles such as pillars or other objects in the area where the experiment is performed.

3. Firstly, mark the initial position with the help of a chalk. This position is the point or the line from where the paper plane needs to be thrown. Note that the person throwing the plane with the help of his hands must not exceed or go behind the line while throwing the plane. The initial position needs to be constant for all the paper planes.

4. Take all the paper planes of design ‘Arrow’ of materials- cardboard, hand-made paper and A-4 size normal paper. Take each one of them and fly them from the height of the shoulder of the person who is throwing the paper plane. Measure the distance covered by the plane with the help of the chalk. Mark the point where the plane falls on the ground and then measure the distance from the initial position.

5. Similarly, repeat the experiment with the paper planes of other designs. Measure and record the distances of all the planes and tabulate the readings.

6. Also, measure the weight of all the paper planes on the analytical balance and record them.

Risk Management:

While making the paper planes, see to it that the shape is symmetrical and the folds that are made on the wings must be equal on both sides. Also, note that the person flies the paper plane with enough force. This is because the capacity of the paper plane to fight against the drag in the air increases if the initial velocity of the plane is high.

Important note:

Note that the readings of the distance covered by the paper planes must be taken at least 5 times to reduce the errors during the experiment. Also, whenever the paper planes are thrown, the tip of the paper plane must be made straight so that the plane flies smoothly on the basis of its shape and the type of paper used because the fold or the improper tip of the plane may be an obstruction for the plane to cover its normal distance.

Raw and Processed Data:

Sr. No.

Type of paper

Design of paper planes

Distance covered by the planes (centimeter)

Average distance covered by the paper planes (centimeters)

Weight of the paper plane (grams)


Cardboard paper


379.30 +0.1

340.70 +0.1

367.10 +0.1

323.00 +0.1

298.20 +0.1

341.66 +0.1



A-4 size normal paper


483.90 +0.1

670.50 +0.1

435.90 +0.1

458.30 +0.1

698.30 +0.1

594.38 +0.1



Hand-made paper


406.20 +0.1

425.10 +0.1

373.60 +0.1

395.80 +0.1

397.00 +0.1

399.54 +0.1



Cardboard paper

Flying fish

299.10 +0.1

353.20 +0.1

381.40 +0.1

297.50 +0.1

292.20 +0.1

324.68 +0.1



A-4 size normal paper

Flying fish

311.70 +0.1

373.00 +0.1

282.50 +0.1

344.90 +0.1

381.70 +0.1

338.76 +0.1



Hand-made paper

Flying fish

287.30 +0.1

293.70 +0.1

366.00 +0.1

330.60 +0.1

360.30 +0.1

327.58 +0.1



Cardboard paper


358.20 +0.1

399.10 +0.1

322.30 +0.1

371.70 +0.1

448.20 +0.1

379.90 +0.1



A-4 size normal paper


492.90 +0.1

421.00 +0.1

455.80 +0.1

583.10 +0.1

502.60 +0.1

491.08 +0.1



Hand-made paper


389.30 +0.1

324.20 +0.1

462.40 +0.1

387.00 +0.1

353.20 +0.1

383.22 +0.1



Cardboard paper


276.00 +0.1

201.90 +0.1

250.10 +0.1

196.30 +0.1

227.00 +0.1

230.26 +0.1



A-4 size normal paper


252.60 +0.1

259.40 +0.1

299.90 +0.1

274.70 +0.1

251.30 +0.1

267.58 +0.1



Hand-made paper


296.20 +0.1

257.80 +0.1

231.60 +0.1

237.60 +0.1

241.50 +0.1

252.94 +0.1



Cardboard paper

Paper Jet

226.40 +0.1

214.40 +0.1

183.20 +0.1

165.10 +0.1

180.70 +0.1

193.96 +0.1



A-4 size normal paper

Paper Jet

335.10 +0.1

307.80 +0.1

362.30 +0.1

330.00 +0.1

405.40 +0.1

348.12 +0.1



Hand-made paper

Paper Jet

336.40 +0.1

291.60 +0.1

337.90 +0.1

367.80 +0.1

337.20 +0.1

334.18 +0.1


The uncertainties in the experiment is + 0.1 cm because least count on the meter scale is + 0.1 cm.


From the observation table, we can almost indicate that the heaviest paper plane in every type of design covers the shortest distance while the lightest paper plane covers the highest distance. We see that the paper planes made out of cardboard paper are the heaviest in every design of paper used and the ones made out of A-4 size normal paper are the lightest.

But in the table, there is an observation for the paper planes of design ‘Paper Jet’ where the distance covered has drastically reduced for the cardboard paper when we compare planes with other types of papers used and also when we see the difference between other types of paper planes.

Conclusion of the experiment:

From the above observation, we can state that the design and weight of the paper plane and the type of paper used are important to determine the distance covered by the paper airplanes as we obtain different readings of distances covered by the paper airplanes of different designs.

But, here the question arises as to why the weight affects the flight of the paper planes and another question is that what are the other relevant factors that affect the flight of the paper planes.

Wings functioning theory:

Wings are important features of any object or creature when it comes to flight and balance in air. Birds have wings with the help of which they are able to fly and for fast transportation and development of technology, these principles of the wings were used in the making of aero-planes. And these wings also play a crucial role in enabling the paper airplanes to fly through air. According to Bernoulli’s principle in relation to aerodynamics, whenever the speed of air is greater, the pressure that the air exerts on the surface is lower and vice versa. Thus, we can relate this principle to paper airplanes and state that when the paper airplane is in air, the air passes through both- the upper as well as the lower part of the wings. Also, the wings have an angle of attack as the wings are not straight while passing through the opposite air drag and they create an angle with the air.

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According to my experiment, when the wings pass through the air, the angle of attack is created with the air and thus, the wings move upwards. This activity makes the speed of air greater in the upward part of the wing and reduces the speed in the lower part. On applying the Bernoulli’s principle, the pressure on the upper part reduces, thus creating suction with the wing and pulling them upwards. While the pressure under the wings increases and this pushes the wings in the upward direction. This helps the paper airplane to remain aloft and stable in the air.

There is another principle that helps the paper planes remain in air for a longer time which is Newton’s third law of motion which states that every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction. During the flight of the plane, the wings face a considerable amount of air coming towards it and when this air applies force or creates pressure on the wings, the wings, in return, apply force and pressure on the air which helps them to remain stable in the air.

Thus, Bernoulli’s principle and Newton’s third law of motion are both appropriate reasons for the flight of paper airplanes in the air with the help of the wings. Also, this theory varies accordingly with the different types of designs used in the experiment because not all planes have the same structure of wings and thus, the amount of pressure and the amount of force applied on the wings is different.

For example, the ‘arrow’, ‘moth’ and ‘delta wing’ have the same type of wings that are mentioned in the theory (that is they are tilted upwards). But designs such as ‘paper jet’ and ‘flying fish’ have quite different shapes of wings that are evident from the diagram of the airplanes shown in the experiment. Thus, for the ‘paper jet’, there are several folds and flaps in the wing itself and thus, the amount of pressure and the reaction force from the wings towards the air, are different at different parts of the wings. One part of the wing has several folds on one another while one part has a smooth surface. So, the wings air pressure at the smooth surface of the wing may be different than the pressure and force on the folded surface. Thus, there are possibilities of various kinds of movements such as ups and downs or loops or nosedives of the plane and thus, there is a difference in the distance covered by these planes. So, we can draw conclusions that the design of the wings or the planes is one factor that is responsible for the distance covered by the paper planes.

Weight theory:

The observation table from the experiment proves that for these designs, the greater the weight of the planes is, the lesser distance is covered by them. Drag is the horizontal force that acts on the paper plane when it flies through the air. Thus, this force becomes an obstacle for the plane to cover more distance. In order to fight and resist this air pressure, we need to have a strong material of paper which has the capacity to resist the air drag. From the materials of paper used, cardboard paper is the heaviest and we can thus, say that it has the largest amount of power to resist air drag. But, at the same time, there is a force of gravity acting downwards towards the ground surface. And according to theory of gravity, the more the weight of the object is, the greater is the attraction. Hence, we can say that though the cardboard paper is the heaviest, it also has a greater force of attraction due to gravity. This mixture of gravitational force and the air drag makes the cardboard plane cover the least distance. Thus, the weight of the paper used is one reason which affects the distance covered by the paper planes.

The above theories indicate that the wing functioning theory forms the basis for which the paper airplanes fly and the weight theory determines the distance covered by the paper airplanes in relation to its weight. Though the normal paper has the least weight, the wind and the force from the person throwing the plane enable the plane to move smoothly in the air. Thus, as there is least attraction of gravity for this plane, it is able to fly farther distances. Thus, the weight theory in regard with drag and gravity helps to determine the distance covered by the planes.

Evaluation of the experiment:

Improvement of errors:

While throwing the paper airplane, the force applied on every paper airplane might not be the same which leads to the variations in the readings obtained. In order to improve this error, the person must decide a particular fixed amount of force or energy that he will apply to the plane. This action can help to reduce some amount of errors.

The experiment is performed in an open area where there are now windows or sources of high air flow. Though high amount of air flow is avoided, there is a possibility of some kind of passage of wind which might affect the flight of the paper airplanes. For example, the amount of wind present may not be equal all time and thus, this may affect the flight of planes accordingly. Thus, the thrower must use enough force that can help the paper airplanes to overcome gravity and fight the air resistance.

The distance covered by each paper plane was measured five times in order to reduce systematic errors. This step may also affect the flight of paper planes sometimes as the landing of the paper planes is very which may include crashes with the ground surface. Due to crashing, the sharp tip or the nose of the paper plane may get disturbed or blunt. And this change in the shape of the tip may lead to the variations in distances covered. To overcome this error, the thrower must be careful and always try to straighten up the tip of the paper airplanes. By doing so, the crashing of the planes can be avoided and the normal flight of the paper planes can be maintained.

The folds and flaps of the paper airplanes have to be done with perfection so that there is no problem with the flight of the planes and the planes can cover their actual distances.

For paper airplane readings of ‘paper Jet’, we notice that the distance covered by the normal and hand-made paper is quite different and higher than that covered by the cardboard paper plane. The reason for this is the design and the stiffness of the cardboard paper. The design of this paper plane is very complex and it includes several minor and major folds and flaps. Due to the tough material of cardboard paper, it is very difficult to follow all the steps of the design. Thus, the design of this plane is not perfect enough and the folds also do not remain stable. This is the reason why the paper plane covers very less distance as compared to other planes of the same design. In order to avoid these construction errors, the person may change the type of design used that fits according to the material of paper used or the folds must be done carefully and a much better plane of the same design can be constructed.

The apparatus used in the experiment such as the analytical balance and the meter scale must work properly to avoid systematic errors and the weight and distances of the paper planes must be measured carefully. The calculations such as the average distance must be correct to avoid any random errors.


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