What Makes a Paper Airplane Fly Further & Longer?
So, what makes a paper airplane fly well anyway? To answer this age-old question, consider what happens when you launch an airplane.
1) Gravity is working against you - it wants to pull your plane down.
2) The air that flows under the wings helps propel the airplane up. It is called "lift"
and it is good unless you have too much lift which then becomes bad.
3) How hard you throw the airplane forward is called "thrust".
The bigger the thrust, the further your plane will fly.
4) Drag is the opposite, it counteracts your thrust and decreases
how far your plane can go. Drag is sort of like friction.
The four components: gravity, lift, thrust, and drag will control how far your paper airplane can go and how long it will stay in the air. You can make adjustments to your aircraft to try to maximize lift and minimize drag.
One way to minimize drag is to make sure your folds & creases are crisp. You want your paper airplane to be tight so it slices through the air like a knife - you don't want your paper flapping around like laundry in the wind.
Lift is usually controlled by making cuts near the tail end of the airplane. Sometimes it works when you make the nose of the airplane heavier either with a paper clip or by folding more layers of paper near the nose of the plane.
You can't really control gravity, but you can control thrust by using high powered launching devices, or you can ask a baseball player with a strong arm to launch your airplane for you. This is not strange since the current world record for the longest distance traveled by a paper airplane was launched by Joe Ayoob, a former football quarterback (the airplane was designed by John Collins but it was launched by the strong-armed football player).
What about the angle at which you launch (called angle of attack)? If you point the airplane towards the ground when you launch, it will obviously not go far. One would think that a 45 degree angle would be best but this is not necessarily so. Some paper airplanes fly further if you aim it straight up towards the sky. A well made airplane will turn at the top of its path and then gently glide down.
Come to think of it, there's much to learn when it comes to airplanes. When an airplane wobbles left and right, it is called "yaw". When it corkscrews it is called "roll"; and when it dips & lifts its nose, it is called "pitch".
Needless to say, to fold and launch a paper airplane is easy, but to fold one that flys well takes a lot of know-how. See paper airplane books from amazon.com.
There are many diagrams for origami airplanes because there are so many ways you can tweak the model to make it look nicer or fly better. Above is a list of diagrams. Below, is a list of web sites which contain even more diagrams! After folding (and launching) a few, why not create your own?