Paper Airplane Designs
February 28, 2008 11:23 PM   Subscribe

Favorite paper airplanes (and other flying diversions)?

Lately I've been making lots of paper airplanes in my free time (I'm a music student; we take lots of "practice breaks" and do a lot of sitting around in the hall). We have different contests -- usually for distance, but sometimes for time aloft. We also like throwing them out the window into the quad.

Anyway, we've done the standard dart as well as this one, which I learned a long time ago. But I'd love some other suggestions for designs that will help me beat my pals in competition.

I realize that it's hard to describe how to make a paper airplane -- I'm hoping people have resources to link to online, or just general tips and tricks that can be explained in text.
posted by rossination to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Build a Stealth Paper Airplane at Norwich University (a military college). Although using glue seems like cheating. But the military has a big budget.

You forgot the “ItsAllFunAndGamesUntilSomeoneLosesAnEye” tag.
posted by XMLicious at 11:36 PM on February 28, 2008

OK, for distance, here is a modified dart. My buddy showed me this in 6th grade and I used it to win a distance competition at a corporate team-building event many years later.

You know how sometimes you fold the wings back over themselves to make little flaps? Do that, except make the size of the flap about 90% of the wing. Then fold the flap in on itself too. And repeat as many times as you can. The result is a profile that looks like this: (rear view)
--       --
  |      |
  --   --

That's after only two folds, but you should be able to manage three or four at least.

When throwing, huck it hard and high like you're throwing a javelin. It won't glide very well but it will cut right through the air. You can transfer way more arm strength than you could with a regular dart.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:23 AM on February 29, 2008

Back in the '60s, Scientific American held the "First International Paper Airplane Contest". The result? The Great International Paper Airplane Book (Paperback)--you can still pick up a cheap used copy. This book provided many hours of diversion back when I was in junior high.
posted by IvyMike at 1:00 AM on February 29, 2008

Back in school, I was a huge fan of paper planes. I actually did a whole project on them ( I don't remember how I convinced my teachers )!

Here are some links with some interesting designs which I came across recently:

"Best paper airplane in the world"

The Flapper

Towards the perfect paper plane

Also, there was one design I found when I was a kid, which supposedly won an award or two. It is quite simple too. I haven't been able to find it on the internet though. Lemme see if I can maybe whip up a small tutorial or something once I get home.
posted by ogami at 2:06 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

An interesting design is to take a square of paper, fold one corner to the center, then refold that edge to the center point, repeat a few more times until you have a triangle with one thick band about a half inch wide along the diagonal centerline of the original square. Now take the two ends of that band, bring them together and attach (tape or glue, or for purists, slide them together, make two small tears and fold to lock). You should now have a cylindrical object kind of like a bishop's hat. Release this from a high point without too much push; it will glide down very gently. Navigation can be controlled somewhat by folding the trailing tip up or down. Can't find an illustration, except this one which is made by rolling a rectangle rather than a triangle.
posted by beagle at 5:40 AM on February 29, 2008

This one is really good, it's a modified dart so simple to make but flies great
posted by zeoslap at 6:14 AM on February 29, 2008

The design I posted is the one featured in this Times article about a paper plane competition in the UK.
posted by zeoslap at 6:16 AM on February 29, 2008

These have a lot of lift
posted by mikepop at 6:45 AM on February 29, 2008

The Great International Paper Airplane Book was a great boon to me as a kid. Lots of interesting designs. I was very fond of the more aerobatic designs.
posted by pointilist at 7:18 AM on February 29, 2008

I've had a passing interest in paper airplanes and gliders since I was a little kid, and I want to thank beagle, for mentioning that cylindrical-triangular design above.

The most impressive flights I've ever seen by hand-folded paper gliders were initiated by two kids sitting in the very top row of the top deck of the Pontiac Silverdome using this design. This was about 1989.

They sat there all afternoon with a couple of thick phone books on their lap, tearing out page after page, making these gliders and gently letting them go. Not even a push, just point it sorta downward and release.

These things would go and go and go - several minutes of flight from each one. Some would encounter air currents in the stadium that kept them aloft even longer. The Silverdome is big and you would usually lose sight of them before they eventually reached field level or came to rest on another seating deck.* They were amazing and I've never forgotten it.

*This post is not intended to condone littering, but with all the abandoned plastic cups and nacho chip trays on the floor in the Silverdome it didn't seem too bad.
posted by OilPull at 7:42 AM on February 29, 2008


Kits, primarily, so not quite what you're looking for.


This one includes a book with a lot of theory and a lot of practical advice for those looking to design their own models. So does this one.
posted by notyou at 8:45 AM on February 29, 2008

Forgive me if this one's in someone else's answer, but I love this simple, effective design. You can fold the wings three different ways depending on what you want. The displayed fold is good for general flight. Bigger wings create more of a lift-intensive glider, while folding the wings as shown, then in half again makes an eyeball-destroying dart.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 10:16 AM on February 29, 2008

This might be something only I have done (hard to imagine...but I didn't find another reference via google) You can easily make flying contraptions out of fast food fry baskets. So far I've had most luck with a McDonalds large fry (until they change the design...may require a paperclip in the front if you're unable to counter the lift with flaps)
posted by samsara at 11:53 AM on February 29, 2008

My favourite is the Paperang -- if built carefully it looks great and flies even better. You can download it for free from the site.

(And here's another version.)
posted by phliar at 4:29 PM on February 29, 2008

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