If you’re reading up on ways to make a paper airplane fly fast and far, you’ve come to the right place. Why do some paper airplanes fly better than others? To understand the reason, you’ll need to first understand the four basic aerodynamic forces that act on a paper airplane when it is in flight. If you already have a good understanding of these aerodynamic forces, let’s get your paper airplane upgraded!
We all know that the closest distances between two points is a straight line. The first thing you can do to make a paper airplane fly its maximum distance is to make sure it flies straight. Therefore, starting on your very first fold, make sure each fold of your paper airplane is perfectly lined up.
One of the aerodynamic factors causing your paper airplane to slow down is drag. The best way to overcome drag is to make sure the wings of your paper airplane are as flat as possible. Aside from using an heated iron to flatten things out, the most convenient method is to crease each fold of your paper airplane with a smooth, hard object. You can use your fingernail or something you find on your desk like a pencil or USB stick.
PLAY AROUND WITH WINGSPAN
The size of the wings will determine how much lift your paper airplane has. Your initial thought maybe to make the wings as big as possible, however, keep in mind that larger wings have more drag. If speed is your primary goal, reduce drag with smaller, narrow wings.
Play around with various paper airplane designs to find which has the best glide / speed ratio.
I’m a perfectionist, it’s kind of annoying. Whether you plan to take part in a speed or distance contest, you cannot make any mistakes when folding your paper airplane. If you do, start over with a new piece of paper. This will give you the best chance of winning!
SIMPLE IS BEST
There are some really complicated paper airplane tutorials online with seemingly hundreds of folds. Those designs may look great, but based on experience, these generally don’t fly well. My reasoning is simple, the more folds your paper airplane has, the thicker it will be causing more drag.
If you get the chance to check out the latest world record paper airplane, the Suzzane is actually a very simple paper airplane to fold. No thrills or frills, just a great paper airplane.
LET GRAVITY WORK FOR YOU
Every paper airplane design has a center of lift and gravity. This is actually a very important concept to understand if you want to make an awesome paper airplane. The general concept is to always have the center of gravity in front of the center of lift. For fast paper airplanes, the center of gravity is placed closer to the nose with the center of lift slightly behind it. For gliders and floaters, set the center of gravity close to the middle of the paper airplane with center of lift farther apart.
TUNE & ADJUST
I’m going to leave you with my last tip, this is to tune, adjust, and repeat. Paper is fragile, every time you throw your paper airplane, it’s being damaged one way or another. You need to understand what causes your plane to veer to the side, stall, or crash and figure out how to fix these issues. It’s science, it’s an art, and it’s actually pretty fun.
If you’re not sure how to do this, here’s my detailed instructions on how to tune a paper airplane.