Observations and results
Did the original plane fly the farthest? Did the plane with increased drag fly a much shorter distance?
As a paper plane moves through the air, the air pushes against the plane, slowing it down. This force is called drag. To think about drag, imagine you are in a moving car and you put your hand out the window. The force of the air pushing your hand back as you move forward is drag, also sometimes referred to as air resistance. In this activity you increased how much drag acted on the paper plane by making a one-inch-high vertical strip on both wings. For example, this is what happens when you're in a moving car with your hand out the window and you change its position from horizontal to vertical. When your hand is held out vertically, it catches a greater amount of air and experiences a greater drag than when it is horizontal. You could probably feel this, as your hand would be more forcefully pushed back as the car moves forward. This is what happened to the modified plane—it experienced a greater amount of drag, which pushed it back more than the original plane. This experiment has clearly demonstrated that altering how just one force acts on a paper plane can dramatically change how well it flies.
Recycle the paper plane when you are done with it.
More to explore
Dynamics of Flight: Forces of Flight, from NASA
What Makes Paper Airplanes Fly?, from Scholastic
Forces of Flight—Drag, from The Franklin Institute
How Far Will It Fly? Build and Test Various Paper Planes, from Science Buddies
This activity brought to you in partnership with Science Buddies