Aerodynamics of Paper Airplanes

Aerodynamics of paper airplanes is the basic study of how and why airplanes fly.

Before we start building paper airplanes, have you ever wondered why a plane of any size can stay up in the air?

For example, take a look at some of these cool kite pictures and then take a look at these amazing airplane photos to understand what I mean. How does something as light as a kite fly as well as something as heavy as an aircraft?

Easy. It is all to do with the aerodynamics of both these types of aircraft.

But before I explain any further, one of the very best ways for anyone to fully understand something is by feel, touch and/or sight. So after making one or two paper airplanes check out our NEW! Radio Control Airplane Shop. You will find great little foam airplanes that can be flown safely inside.

Back in the 19th century - 1893 to be exact - a very generous man by the name of Lawrence Hargraves invented the box kite (sometimes known as the cellular kite).

Lawrence Hargraves was one of the world's early pioneers of aerodynamics and the effects of air as it passes a moving object. His generosity was shown as he refused to patent his discovery rather preferring that it be available to anyone who could benefit from it.

His invention, one of which he literally flew to a height of 16 feet was very influential in the further study of aerodynamics and the development of the curved wing.

What is the Aerodynamics of Paper Airplanes?

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So what is it that takes a paper airplane from this...

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to this?

There are many, many factors that engineers must take into consideration when designing an airplane to ensure that it stays airborne.

However as this is a basic look at paper airplane aerodynamics we will just be looking at four major forces that answer the question:-

Why do paper airplanes fly?

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The four main factors which affect the aerodynamics of an airplane are:-

1/ Thrust - the forward motion or speed of the aircraft.

For paper airplanes this is provided by your throwing the plane forward. Also if you throw your airplane with differing strength this will also change the airflow as the wings move through the air.

2/ Drag - the resistance of the aircraft against the wind.

As paper airplanes do not have any form of continuous motion ie an engine and a propeller; your airplane needs to be built sleek. This will keep the drag to a minimum.

3/ Gravity - the force that keeps all things on the earth. To alleviate this force an object needs to become light in weight;


4/ Lift- where the push of the wind under the wing is greater than the push on the top of the wing. This upward pushing makes the aircraft lighter.

This is where we have a lot to thank Lawrence Hargraves for as this was his discovery which by the way the Wright brothers used to further their passion for powered flight.

Naturally there are still many other influences that add to or subtract from the planes aerodynamics such as pitch, speed, centre of gravity of the plane and direction.

Most airplanes and aircraft are affected by the aerodynamics of the propeller or jet engines, the wings, the tail, ailerons and rudder.

Other aircraft do not have these things though.

Aircraft such as kites, hot air balloons and helicopters for instance.

Airplanes like the Quicksilver ultralight aircraft to the large Boeing 747's flown by airline companies such as United Airlines or American Airlines still include these aerodynamic principles when flying.

Let's now see the

Pace Jet (Click here)

to test the aerodynamics of paper airplanes.

When complete launch this aircraft in a room somewhere out of the wind and watch how it performs each time.

Then make some changes to it. For instance add some weight to the middle of the Pace Jet (could be fuel in a real aircraft) or bend up the rear of the wings causing the nose to pitch up and the airplane to fly slower.

These changes will demonstrate to you these forces in action.

You can continue your experiments with aerodynamics of paper airplanes by following this link.

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