Paper plane

A paper plane, paper aeroplane, paper glider, paper airplane or paper dart is a toy plane made out of paper. It is also sometimes called aerogami, after origami (the Japanese art of paper folding). In Japanese, it is called kamihikōki (紙飛行機). It is popular in Hawaii because it is one of the easiest types of origami for a novice to master. The most basic paper plane would only take at most six steps to "correctly" complete. The term "paper plane" can also refer to those made from oranges. The best are made by James Kudalin who in 2008 set the world records for hang time and distance with 207.25 seconds of flight and a traveling distance of 116 m).


The use of paper airplanes to create toys, is believed to have originated 2,000 years ago in China, where kites were a popular form of entertainment. Leonardo da Vinci is often cited as the inventor of paper planes, although this is debatable since the Chinese invented both paper and the kite. However, he did make reference to building a model plane out of parchment. Arguably the father of model gliders was George Cayley, who built hand-launched kite-like gliders made from linen in the early 1800s. Although these can be considered to be evidence for the modern paper plane, one cannot be sure where exactly the invention originated.

The earliest known date of the creation of modern paper planes was said to have been in 1909. However, the most accepted version of the creation was two decades later in 1930 by Jack Northrop (Co-founder of Lockheed Corporation). Northrop had used paper planes as tests of ideas for flying real-life aircraft. Many other famous designers are known to have done this, either in the form of actual models, or else 'paper aircraft' which are numerical simulations of the aircraft design - which is another subject entirely.

There have been many improvements in the designs for velocity, lift and fashion over subsequent years.

Examples of common paper airplanes

Origami Darts

The oldest and for many thousands of years the only type of paper model aeroplane (or any glider for that matter) were origami darts made from sheets of paper by folding. For centuries there were only a few basic designs (some of which are illustrated below), but in recent times a number of radical departures and improvements have taken place.

In the late 1970s a number of radical departures were introduced by two Australian designers in the late 1970s / early 1980s, with the introduction of tail-dragger as well as tricycle undercarriages. Jack Boterman's book of complex Origami aircraft introduced many new forms, though many were Kirigami, and included glue and staples.

Creative use of scissors and glue have resulted in swing-wing and high performance derivatives of basic designs.

The paper airplanes listed below are step-by-step instructions for making some types of common and simple paper airplanes. More designs can be found elsewhere on the Internet and in books.


This type of paper plane usually takes a person seven steps (for correct procedure), but can take only five steps to complete folding without a guide for help. Divide a sheet of paper into two parts. A rectangular piece of paper such as A3, A4 or Letter (preferably A4 or Letter) can be used.

  1. The folder should leave a middle mark. This can be accomplished by putting the paper vertically and bending the left part of the paper to the right so that it overlaps the other side completely. The folder should then mark the fold.
  2. The folder then should un-crease the sides again and fold the top-left corner of the plane so that it and what was formerly the top edge left of the centre crease touches the centre crease. Repeat but now on the right side of the plane. Do this again to both sides, folding the diagonal edges towards the mark.
  3. The folder should then fold the front tip of the plane down towards the centre crease. Next add the wings by re-folding the centre crease and folding down the sides so that a fuselage is produced.
  4. Still in portrait position the folder should mountain fold the front of the plane backwards, aligning at the centre crease, then re-fold the wings in the area. Add wing flaps if necessary.

The Classic Dart

The Dart is a classic and very common plane. The dart is more streamlined than the traditional plane. It is a superb flier and flies far and fast.

  1. Follow steps one and two for the traditional plane.
  2. Re-fold the central crease, and lay the plane flat on its side. Fold so that the top edge on the top side is folded down towards the centre crease, so that they touch and a crease runs from the tip of the plane to the area between the centre crease and the edge of the plane on the trailing (back) edge. Flip over the plane and repeat on the other side.
  3. Because this plane has a pointed front and may be damaged by repeated flying, you may decide to fold the front tip so that it is inside the fuselage. Add wing flaps if needed.

The Arrow

A modification of the Classic Dart. Follow the same steps as though making a dart, but after step one fold the angled side again to the center line. Repeat folding the outside edge towards the centre line, but be careful when doing so as the nose, if not folded properly, will not be straight, so straighten the nose as you fold. You may decide to fold back the nose slightly if it gets damaged or tape the edges to the centre line of some of them get loose. Next add the wings similar to the dart. Stabilizers may be added as desired.

The Sparrow

A slightly more complex plane, the sparrow is made to have wide wings with a tail for balance. A flawless fuselage is hard to achieve but worth the extra time and will show through long airtime without a spiral. The Sparrow's tail has been found best to have a slight upward (dihedral) angle to push the tail down and help the sparrow pitch higher. Step-by-step instructions on making this plane can be found here The last step for folding the wings is optional. A plush wing has been found to work best.

Ring Wing Glider

Unlike its cousins the ring wing does not have a flat surface. It can stay in the air for a very long time unlike the traditional one. It does look very complex but it is very simple to make. It would be a good idea to tape it onced finished(see directions first). The reason why it is able to fly so far is because it has a large wing area, very aerodynamic, you can use more force on it and when you throw it does not go out of control. It will fly longer if you use multiple sheets of paper. and and and its made of pie

Skyaak, Canadian Ring-Wing Glider configuration

Another ring-wing hybrid features two ring-wings suspended in tandem on a central shaft. Airflow studies over the surface of the conical shaped ring-wing typical to Skyaak illustrate a positive incidence, which refers to the position of the nose in flight which tends to lift slightly above the horizon. The ring-wing design generates stability in the air which is amplified when the model spins on its axis. The spinning motion of the Skyaak design seems to create a vortex that is generated by the physical force of this corkscrew, or spiral trajectory. A noteable characteristic of this property is the ability of the small-scale craft to self-correct in mid-flight, as if bouncing off a tactile surface to resume an arc-shaped trajectory.

Another interesting property of the two ring-wings in tandem on a central shaft is the apparent ability to respond effortlessly to very rapid acceleration. The small model (Canadian ring-wing glider DIY 'deuce') at about 12" length can be seen to retain a crisp clean arc-shaped flight-path when thrown quite slowly as well as when thrown at very high scale-speeds. It should be noted that the optimum flight may only be achieved with a carefully balanced ratio of ring-wing width and depth to the length of the central shaft or fuselage, in precise combination with a certain ballst weight in the nose.

In the case of the larger Model 3, length 26", see an additional ballast weight at the Center of Gravity (CG) substantially increases both stability and inertia resulting in a longer trajectory when hand-thrown.

This observation logically hints at a craft that has the potential to execute a highly control-able trajectory at very high air-speeds. It remains to be seen what if any practical application this cluster of attributes might have for future R&D.

Foam Plate Glider

Not all paper airplanes are made from paper. The Foam Plate Glider model 9 FPG-9 is a simple, hand launched, glider made from a common foam picnic plate. It may be built and flown to satisfy an elective activity in the Boy Scouts of America Aviation Merit Badge.

Advanced Paper Gliders

Paper gliders have two forms of advancement:

  • High Performance
  • Scale Modelling
  • Paper Helicopters

Noteworthy events in the wake of advancements in paper aircraft include:

  • South African advances during 1992-1993 after the Volkskus/Paper Pilot competition
  • NASA Langley's world-record largest paper aeroplane
  • Ken Blackburn's World Record origami aircraft, designed to beat the then-current distance for origami aircraft.

Paper's mass/density ratio is higher than lighter materials such as balsa wood, and so in consequence a conventional origami paper glider (see above) has considerably lower performance due to higher drag and imperfect aerodynamic section of its wings. Conventional balsa gliders will always out-perform conventional paper aircraft for this reason.

However, unlike balsa gliders, paper gliders have a far higher strength/thickness ratio - a sheet of office-quality 80gsm photocopier/laser printer paper, for example, has the in-scale strength of aircraft-grade aluminium. Card stock has the properties of steel at the scale of paper model aircraft.

Accomplished engineers, and enthusiasts have found that using paper as a construction material allows, with care, for the replication of performance characteristics which can exceed those of conventional hand-launched free flight gliders, if use of engineering principles and aeronautics are included during the process of design. As a result, two distinct design sets (Ninomiya, 1969 and Mathews, 1982 : see below) have emerged, both possessing remarkable performance a full two orders of magnitude removed from conventional gliders.

As far as scale-modelling goes, paper aircraft modelling has aided full scale as well as modellers. The first conceptions of scale model or semi-scale gliders appeared in the "Great International Paper Airplane Book", 1967.

Design of paper models is an attractive pursuit, as design of wings and other surfaces can be completely in-scale by tracing flight surfaces with precision. Further, CAD software can be used in plotting the shapes of wings, tailplanes and other compnents for easy reproduction of parts for assembly. With care, it is even possible to colour in a model airframe before construction commences, or print patterns upon it during the process of reproduction.

During the second world war a peak was reached with flying card models, where rubber powered fighters were produced. This peak has been reached many times since then for scale model paper aircraft.Care in construction can produce flying models which are superior in strength and lightness to balsa and foam models, so that micro radio-control and electric power may be employed in these airframes. Larger scale construction with corrugate cardboard, re-inforced with other materials is another option to radio-control models desiring inexpensive 'disposable' airframes

White Wings

In Japan in the late 1970s, Professor Yasuaki Ninomiya designed an advanced type of paper aircraft, which are sold as the 'White Wings' Series of paper glider packs.

White Wings are a stark departure from conventional paper aircraft, in that their fuselages and wings are paper templates cut and glued together. They were designed with the aid of low-speed aerodynamics, and their parts are drafted with the use of CAD software.

The high performance gliders have fuselages that are kept rigid by the use of a balsa fuselage profile bonded to the paper components. The paper used is quite heavy, approximately twice the weight of standard drawing cartridge paper, but lighter than lightweight cardboard. Original White Wings were entirely paper, requiring patience and skill. Later however, balsa-wood fuselages were used, and White Wings were sold "pre-cut", making construction easier. The aerofoil used is a Gottingen 801 (curved plate), and a pattern is supplied as a cutout part of each kit.

Scottish Airdart

Professor E.H. Mathews and the University of the West of Scotland in Scotland, developed a more mature form of the White Wings gliders for sale to Scottish children and teenagers in the 1980s. His gliders are designed using aerodynamic principles in the style of the White Wings series, they differ in construction, being of all-paper rather than paper-balsa laminate fuselage. The first book of gliders was entitled 'Scottish Airdart', and was published by Struik in 1987.

The performance of the Paper Pilot gliders is almost equivalent to that of the Ninomiya gliders - but one of the first designs, a profile model of the SAAF C-160Z Transall, has a gliding distance of greater than the length of a rugby pitch. The early gliders were designed to incorporate a catapult hook shaped from a paper clip. Later designs (And upgraded early designs) incorporated the addition of a bungy hook, permitting extremely long distance flights.

A remarkable characteristic of the Paper Pilot gliders are their ability to be flight trimmed - to the point of being able to fly straight in confined spaces, which few modern paper gliders can do.

E.H. Mathews designs then developed in '12 Planes for the Paper Pilot' (Struik, 1997) into aircraft with three dimensional fuselages - models included the J-3 Piper Cub, Beech Stagger-Wing Biplane and Britten-Norman Trislander (a subject of a high performance flat glider earier in the series).

E.H. Mathews authored a commemorative model of the SAAF Junkers Ju-52/3m 'Johan van Riebeek' in 1999, and an as-yet unreleased model of the Airbus A-320 airliner in South African Airways colours, seen on the SABC youth TV program 'Tekkies' in 1998, as a prototype.

The most astonishing glider developed by Prof. Mathews was the Papercopter - a free-flight paper model helicopter, with a rotationally stablised ring-wing as the flight dynamic element. Three variants were developed - the standard Papercopter of 1991, the Airwolf (1993) and the Stealth helicopter.

Paper Helicopters (Autogyros)

The world's first known published paper autogyro (engineless helicopter) by Richard K Neu appeared in "The Great International Paper Airplane Book" published in 1967. Its wings fly in a circle around a central ballast shaft as it descends vertically. This basic design has been published several times and is widely known.

The world's first known published forward gliding paper autogyro with forward pointing body lifted by spinning blades was built by James Zongker. It appears on page 53 of "The Paper Airplane Book: The Official Book of the Second Great International Paper Airplane Contest" published in 1985 by Science Magazine. Its twin contra-rotating blades automatically spin on paper axles upon launch to provide lift.

As noted above (see entry, Paper Pilot), E.H. Mathews developed a flight stable paper model helicopter. This has a ring wing, and flaps for adjusting for flight for stability, positioned on the inboard edge of the ring. While not an autogyro per sê, this paper model aircraft class falls within the general design of a paper model helicopter, and does possess a rotational flight element producing lift during forward flight. Papercopters, as Professor Mathews labeled them, are unique among paper model rotorcraft in having a range and velocity far in excess of all other classes, able to fly quite quickly, and with a range of between 10-15m.

World record

There are multiple goals for a flight:

  • Distance (javelin throwing).
  • Time (javelin throwing straight up with subsequent metamorphosis into a sailplane).
  • Aerobatic (looping).
  • Stable flight to understand flight mechanics of a good plane.

For every goal there is a typical plane and sometimes a world record.

There have been many attempts over the years to break the barriers of throwing a paper plane for the longest time aloft. Ken Blackburn held this Guinness world record for 13 years (1983–1996) and had regained the record on October 81998 by keeping his paper plane aloft for 27.6 seconds (indoors). This was confirmed by Guinness officials and a CNN report The paper plane that Blackburn used in this record breaking attempt was a "glider".


Although the DC-3 model has wings, the former Guinness world record holder Tim Richardson disagrees with the decision to put a 'tail' on the paper plane. His explanation of paper plane aerodynamics on his website mentions that the tail is not needed. He uses the real-life B-2 Spirit flying wing bomber as an example, stating that the weights along the wing should be put forward in order to stabilize the plane. (Note: paper airplanes do not need a tail primarily because they typically have a large, thin fuselage, which acts to prevent yaw, and wings along the entire length, which prevents pitch.)

Independently, Edmond Hui invented a Stealth Bomber-like paper airplane called the Paperang in 1977, based on hang glider aerodynamics. Uniquely, it has properly controlled airfoil sections, high aspect ratio wings, and a construction method designed to allow the builder to vary every aspect of its shape. It was the subject of a book, Amazing Paper Airplanes in 1987, and a number of newspaper articles in 1992. It is ineligible for most paper airplane competitions due to the use of a staple, but it has extremely high gliding performance exceeding glide ratios of 12 to 1 with good stability.

In 1975, origami artist Michael LaFosse designed a pure origami (one sheet; no cutting, glue or staples...) flying wing, which he named the "Art Deco Wing". Though its aerodynamic form mimics some hang glider and supersonic airfoils, its invention evolved from exploring the beauty of folded paper first. Its glide ratio and stability are on a par with many of the best paper wing constructions that use glue, tape or staples. This design was first published in 1984 in the book "Wings and Things", by Stephen Weiss, St. Martin's Press.

Although it is a common view that light paper planes go farther than heavy ones, this is considered to be untrue by Blackburn. Blackburn's record-breaking 20-year-old paper plane (Instructions) was based on his belief that the best planes had short wings and are "heavy" at the point of the launch phase in which the thrower throws the paper plane into the air, and at the same time longer wings and a "lighter" weight would allow the paper plane to have better flight times but this cannot be thrown hard with much pressure into the air as a "heavy" weighted launch phase. According to Blackburn, "For maximum height and for a good transition to gliding flight, the throw must be within 10 degrees of vertical" — which shows that a speed of at least 60 miles per hour (about 100 kilometers per hour) is the amount needed to throw the paper plane successfully.

After the folding there are still gaps between different layers of folded paper (tearoff edge). These and the kinks transversal to the airflow may have a detrimental effect on aerodynamics, especially on the upper side of the wing. In some models the surfaces are not aligned to the direction of flow acting as airbrakes (notice the airbrakes of the B-2 in the picture above!). Typically the center of mass is at 1/4 and the center of area is at 1/2 of the plane lengths. Two method exist to shift the center of mass to the front. One rolls up the leading edge which then stays unswept. The other uses a swept wing or axial folding to produce something like a fuselage extending out of leading edge of the wing. If you want to make a more advanced plane, first, fold the paper in the middle. Unfold. Fold the bottom up about 1/2 an inch. Do this until the top is about 2 inches high. Turn over and turn upside-down. Make wings.

Space Flight

There may soon be an origami airplane launched from space. A prototype passed a durability test in a wind tunnel in March 2008, and Japan's space agency adopted it for feasibility studies.

Noted Designers

There have been many noted and unknown designers of paper aircraft, but the following is a list of the best known of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and whose gliders are still enjoyed by many people either for their design or performance. Many are book authors as well.

  • Captain Ralph Burnaby, RN
  • Richard Slade
  • Richard Kline
  • Professor Ninomiya
  • Professor E.H. Mathews
  • Ken Blackburn (for his world-record glider)
  • Oliver Cadogan
  • Martin Simons : He is noted for his book 'Model Aeroplane Aerodynamics', a seminal book for model glider design.


Notable books

  • The Great International Paper Airplane Book, by Jerry Mander, George Dippel and Howard Gossage; 1967,1988
  • Whitewings: Excellent Paper Airplanes, by Dr. Yasuaki Ninomiya; AGCO Ltd., Osako, Japan, 1980.
  • The Ultimate Paper Airplane, by Richard Kline; Fireside Book, New York, 1985.
  • Paper Pilot, by E.H. Mathews, Struik, Johannesburg, 1988
  • Paper Pilot 2, by E.H. Mathews, Struik, Johannesburg, 1991
  • Paper Pilot 3, by E.H. Mathews, Struik, Johannesburg, 1993
  • 12 Planes for the Paper Pilot, by E.H. Mathews, Struik, Johannesburg, 1995
  • Paper Airplanes, by Richard Slade, 1972 (Scale Model Aircraft)
  • The Know How Book of Paper Aeroplanes, Know How Series, Usborne Books, London, 1979
  • The Gliding Flight, by John M. Collins, Ten Speed Press, 1989
  • Fantastic Flight, by John M. Collins, Ten Speed Press, 2004

External links

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