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Physics of Paper Airplanes

Presented by: Casey Leong and Aaron Simon

How they work

Most paper airplanes work by balancing weight, drag, lift, and thrust in a way that
allows them to glide for great distances.

The drag is the resistance of the air that the paper airplane is displacing. It acts
on the airplane in the opposite direction to which it is travelling.

The weight is, of course, the weight of the airplane. It is acted upon by gravity in a
downwards direction.

The most important element is lift. Lift is the force that pushes an airplane
upward, and it is created by a difference in air pressure on the top of the airplanes
wings and on the bottom. As the air is parted by a planes wings, more is pushed
below the wings than above. This creates a high pressure zone beneath the
wings, and a low pressure zone above them. The high pressure zone then
attempts to reach the low pressure zone pushing the wings up.

Thrust is the second highly controllable force acting on the airplane. Thrust is the
force that moves an airplane in the direction it is facing. In a paper airplanes, the
thrust is the original throw. This is why most paper airplanes cannot fly indefinitely,
as they dont have thrust, except for in the first moments. They can use their lift to
create some thrust, but it isnt sufficient to sustain flight. Normal airplanes use jet
engines or propellers to provide thrust.

The Best Paper Airplanes

There are two definitions for the best paper airplane. The first is the one that goes
the farthest. This type of plane would reduce drag as much as possible by being
aerodynamic. It would also want to be light with some of the weight being put to
the front but not enough to fall on its face every time, and transfer most of its lift
into thrust by having its wings at the correct angle. The second definition is the
one that stays in the air the longest. This one puts the majority of its trust into lift
and centralizing the majority of its weight so it isn't off balance.

Planes we Made

The Duck Plane

The duck plane is so named because it imitates a type of airplane of the same
name. This type of plane had a rudder in front. This duck plane is a very capable
flier, which is confusing since it seems like it should have a great deal of drag. Our
theory is that its front wings are shaped so that they split the air to create, the high
and low pressure zones more efficiently, thereby increasing lift. This plane had an
average velocity of 3.75 meters per second. Its average flight distance is 5.65
meters. Another interesting part of this design is that we found that lighter paper
worked better than heavier paper. This is probably because of the lighter weight
and greater flexibility.

This plane is different from many of the other planes in that it is folded out of a
square. The other difference is that its wings are much bigger than its body. With
many other planes, the body is about the same size as the wings. This claims to
allow it to have a slow, steady flight, but I didnt find this true. What did happen
was that it was very steady. This may be due to the wings size, or the flaps on the
end of the wings. It did not, however, stay in the air for long. It had an average
time in the air. It was actually faster than the other two planes we made, with an
average velocity of 5.14 meters per second.

Reinforced dart
This airplane is a new take on the very first airplane most people make. It is like
the dart, but it is slightly more front-heavy. An interesting part of this airplane is
that its wings have the same shape as the suzannes. Despite this similarity, this
plane doesnt work nearly as well as it, getting an average velocity of 3.22 meters
per second. I think this is because of this planes aforementioned frontheaviness. With the suzanne, you could throw it much faster than with this plane.
This is because if you give this plane too much thrust, it will tilt upward and hit the
roof. From this, it can be assumed that too much weight in the front of a plane can
be disastrous.

Professional Planes



The suzanne is one of the professional planes. It currently holds the world record
for longest distance, at 226 feet, 10 inches. It goes much farther than any of the
other planes (except the next one). Its average distance was 8.22 meters, and its
average velocity was 7.31 meters per second. The suzannes speed is likely due
to the angle of its wings being optimal for creating both thrust and lift. This plane
maintains its angle using its weight.
Since most of its weight is in the front, it
naturally tips down to a certain angle. It also mad casey
requires a stronger initial thrust than many
of the planes we made. Suzanne also suffers
from barely any drag as when it flies it will fall
asdfghjdfghdfghfgh at a consistant rate without ever diving down.

Suzanne Pt. 2
Another interesting point about the Suzanne is its wings shape which is roughly
shaped like an airplane wing with a thick part facing forward and a narrowed end
part. This unique shape creates a low and high pressure zone which keeps an
airplane afloat. This could explain why the Suzanne flies so quickly as it's wings
behave like an airplane wing.

The Walk this ray


The walk this ray is a follow foil, the one kind of plane that can outdistance the
Suzanne. The only reason the Suzanne holds the world record is that these kinds
of planes arent allowed to hold the title. The follow foil utilizes a person walking
behind it with a precisely angled piece of cardboard to fly for a theoretically infinite
distance. The large cardboard generates an updraft when moved forward at the
correct rate. The plane then uses this updraft to negate the forces of gravity and
drag. This means that, with enough training, a follow foil can be flown as long as
the person can walk. These are banned from the longest flying title because of
this. If they were allowed to hold the record, the longest flying would simply be
about who had the patience to walk the longest very carefully.

How the Walk this ray works





Step 1: The cardboard
moves forward,
displacing air.

Step 2: The air is

pushed up by the

Step 3: The plane uses the

updraft to counter the gravity
and drag, and move forward.