The Best Paper Airplane
March 6, 2015 2:49 PM   Subscribe

We're having a paper airplane contest at work with prizes for distance and accuracy. I've been googling for a while, but I'm looking for designs that you've used and that work.

Requirements: can be made with one 8.5" x 11" piece of office paper with minimal cutting. Assume decent origami skill.
posted by sleeping bear to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I saw David Rees open up a show for John Hodgman with an act that passed out sheets of paper to the entire audience, then explained how to make this design. For the many people that made it correctly (I was not one of them because I am awful at this sort of thing), their planes went pretty damn far.
posted by Aznable at 3:01 PM on March 6, 2015

Best answer: I've won things with this design, which was given the name "Eastern Star" in a book I had when I was a kid. It has a delightful tendency to curve upwards near the end of its flights. It's also very tuneable-- it responds dramatically to a little upward nudge on the corners of the wings before throwing.
posted by 4th number at 3:01 PM on March 6, 2015

Jumping in to second David Rees; he's not a professional paper airplane expert, but he has an entire episode exploring the topic of the perfect paper airplane.

(Warning: If you are not already familiar with Rees, he is indubitably irritating. At first. It took me two or three episodes to realize that he is, in fact, a delightful man.)
posted by nightrecordings at 3:07 PM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

What is the goal? Time aloft? Distance?
posted by MonsieurBon at 3:15 PM on March 6, 2015

Response by poster: The goal is distance and accuracy (we're throwing planes into kiddie pools)
posted by sleeping bear at 3:18 PM on March 6, 2015

If tape is permitted, I recently saw a demonstration (can't remember where) of a cylinder shaped "airplane" that can be thrown like a football, and will fly far and true.

Seems like cheating, though.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:00 PM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's this one!
posted by ddaavviidd at 4:07 PM on March 6, 2015

You can make all the airplanes that won at the Great International Paper Airplane Contest using this construction kit. If you have time I can strongly suggest the longer book.
posted by jessamyn at 4:08 PM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I did this very experiment for the fifth grade science fair and was one of the winners from my school who advanced to the district round.

Unfortunately I don't have access to my research at this time.

I do seem to remember one design that did not rank highly for time aloft not for distance, so you may want to avoid it:

Take a drinking straw & cut it with a razor blade or exacto knife, making four slits, about one inch long, in one end of the straw (i.e. at 12:00, 3:00, 6:00 & 9:00). Then cut two strips of index card, as wide as the length of the slits in the straw, and about 2.5-3" long. Fold the strips of index card in half (fold perpendicular to the length), and shape the bend in each of the strips into 45-degree angles. Place the folded index card pieces in the straw slits so that the corners of the folds are back to back and you have four little fin-like wings.

Yeah, don't do that one.
posted by univac at 4:10 PM on March 6, 2015

Indoor or outdoor?

We had a paper airplane contest on distance, and the winner (a former aerospace engineer) made whatever airplane, but very deliberately looked at the prevailing winds. He launch near vertically but also into the wind. His plane ultimately got turned around by the breeze and now had a much higher vertical component to work off before landing, and hence, went much further horizontally than anyone else's plane.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 4:13 PM on March 6, 2015

Seconding the gyro-flyer. My dad made me this when I was a kid and it blew my mind:!!/
posted by bendy at 8:51 PM on March 6, 2015

This Flying Wing was a childhood favorite. It takes a bit of finesse folding the Z's on the wingtips. It flies nice and consistently stable.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:44 PM on March 6, 2015

Joe Palmer's planes fly well.
posted by mikepop at 7:44 PM on March 8, 2015

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