STEM Activity: Come Glide With Me

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STEM Activity: Come Glide With Me

May 26 is National Paper Airplane Day! Experiment with paper airplane design, investigate how wing shape affects flight, and explore flight principles through this fun activity.

 

Materials Needed

  • Craft supplies (e.g., decorative tape, stickers, etc.)
  • Crayons or markers
  • Paper
  • Paper clips
  • Scissors
  • Tape

 

Instructions

  1. Select a paper airplane design to fold, or create your own.  
     
  2. Use these paper airplane folding tips to ensure a smooth flight:
    • Paper airplanes should be symmetrical (the same on both sides). Take extra time to line up corners and meet center lines precisely when folding.
    • Make sure the folds are extra crisp.
       
  3. Decorate your airplane using markers, decorative tape or stickers.
     
  4. Test your paper airplane. Try out a few modifications, observe how your airplane glides, and record any notes on how the different wing designs affect your airplane’s flight.
    • Bend the wingtips up.
    • Bend the wingtips down.
    • Bend one wingtip up and one down.
    • Add paper clips to the nose.
    • Add paper clips to the wings.
    • Add paper clips to the tail.
       
  5. Select another paper airplane design to fold and observe how it differs from your first paper airplane.

 

What are we learning?

Did you know that most paper airplanes are considered gliders rather than true airplanes? When you are testing your paper airplanes, you throw them forward to provide thrust. After the initial thrust, however, the paper airplane flies by gliding. Drag, the opposing force to thrust, is always pushing the gliders slightly back, slowing them down. When you bend the paper airplane’s wingtips up or down, it affects drag. This is similar to how airplane wings have movable flaps that either give more lift during takeoff or increase drag during landing. When you add paper clips onto parts of your plane, you are adding weight, which changes the center of gravity and center of lift.

Aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) for their invention of the airplane. When they were young, they read a lot about flight and were deeply interested in the idea of mechanical flight. But, before attempting powered flight, they decided to master gliding and built three biplane gliders. In 1903 they made history’s first powered, sustained and controlled airplane flight from level ground without assistance at takeoff. Watch an official test flight of the Wright Brothers’ military airplane in 1909 here, and learn about other inventors who have helped innovation take flight by visiting our website.

 

Looking for more STEM activities?

We encourage you to share pictures and videos of your airplane creations on our Camp Invention Facebook page! For more STEM activities developed by NIHF’s team of education experts, check out our blog.

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