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What makes paper planes fly?

It is generally believed that the Chinese were the first to build Paper Airplanes and kites out of papyrus paper around 2000 years ago. Since the Chinese were early innovators and invented paper “as we know it today”, it follows that they would be among the first to find creative uses for the new substance.

One of the more interesting early uses of paper for flight occurred in France during the 1700s. The Montgovier brothers used paper to build hot air balloons. Later they used paper lined cloth to build the first human carrying hot air balloons in 1783.

Leonardo Da Vinci wrote of using parchment in building models of his ornithopter (helicopter).

During the early 1900s Aero magazines published several articles using paper airplane models to demonstrate aerodynamic principles. The Wright brothers reportedly use paper planes, wings and airfoils in wind tunnels as part of their quest to build the first powered human carrying airplane. In the 1930s an English business man named Wallis Rigby brought his paper modeling company to the United States. His models were famous internationally for their “tab in slot” construction. The models were published in books, boxed sets and even in the Sunday morning comic strips.

Nowadays, Paper planes have become a part of our lives. We’ve all spent hours playing with paper planes.

So without further delay, let me get to the topic in question- What makes them fly? In doing so we will also answer another question-How to make them fly longer?

The 4 forces:

There are 4 major forces that cause and affect the flight of a paper plane:

Thrust
The force that acts when you throw the plane i.e. the push that you give it when you throw a paper plane.
Lift
This is an upward Force that helps the plane to move up.
Drag
It is kind of the opposite of thrust. It causes the plane to slow down
Gravity
It pulls the plane down and thus results in shorter flights.

So how does it work?

So when you throw a plane, you give it a thrust. Air moving under and over provide the plane a lift. But at the same time, the air moving against the plane give it a drag which slows the plane down. The gravity also pulls the plane down, which shortens the plane’s flight.

The plane which  flies far:

Let’s call the forces which make a plane go far i.e. Lift and thrust as Positive forces and  gravity and drag as negative forces.

Naturally, a good plane would be one with minimal negative and maximum positive forces.

Here are a few examples of doing so:

  • Increasing lift: One way to do so would be by making bigger wings.
  • Decreasing gravity: Using lighter material would decrease mass and thus the gravity.
  • Decreasing drag: Designing a plane which is more streamlined would decrease the drag.

I leave you to ponder upon the subject and make your paper plane much better now that you are armed with the basic knowledge. Look for more ways by which you can lengthen the flight of a plane and leave your ideas below.

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