Get Regular Updates!



Rockwell McGellin

The physics of folding for flight

The physics of folding for flight

Fancy becoming a world paper plane champion? Learn how to power up to soar to new heights.

The physics of folding for flight

You probably grew up with just one paper plane design under your belt – or in your notepad.

The popular paper dart is great at two things – being easy to fold and flying fast – but let’s delve deeper into how to improve your paper plane game.

Fold it up and flick it out

Image|Rockwell McGellin
You’ve probably folded this one before

Four forces affect how all planes fly.

There’s thrust pushing it forward and drag slowing it down. Then there’s lift pulling it up and gravity pulling it down.

Your throw (or the engines) provide the thrust pushing it forward. The wings convert that thrust into lift.

Together, they keep the plane in the air and moving forward, but you need the right amount of each force to stay airborne.

Image|Rockwell McGellin
Our dart flies straight and speedy

Fighter jets – and our dart – have just enough wing to keep them the right way up as they hurtle through the air but are more like rockets than regular planes.

They’re designed to make the most of their thrust (their engines, or your throw) by minimising drag.

But what if we made the most of something else instead?

Get your glide on

The world paper plane championships have three categories: distance, flight time and stunts.

(Yes, that’s a real thing. Red Bull Paper Wings is where paper plane enthusiasts compete on the world stage – and Aussie won a gold medal in the flight time category for 2019.)

Your dart might do OK at distance if you throw it hard enough, but to boost our flight time, we’re going to need something that stays up for longer.

Image|Rockwell McGellin
Wider wings means more lift

This design starts off the same but ends up with much more wing area. That creates more lift and makes it glide much better.

Compared to the dart, it’s positively floaty.

Image|Rockwell McGellin
A much more leisurely flight…

But that floatiness comes with a trade-off. You can’t quite pelt it the same way you’d throw a dart.

When you do, the forces go out of whack. It converts the speed into lift really well, but when it runs out of both it falls right out of the sky.

Image|Rockwell McGellin
…but take it too fast and you’ll have a stall

Set to soar

So is there a ‘best’ paper plane design?

That depends whether you’re aiming for the fastest speed, the longest flight time or the most impressive stunt.

Your best bet is to start with a design suited to your goal and then do plenty of testing of your techniques.

Happy flying, and hopefully we’ll see some of you at the next world championships!

Particle Puns


Creative Commons Logo

Republishing our content

We want our stories to be shared and seen by as many people as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright on the stories on Particle belongs to Scitech and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This allows you to republish our articles online or in print for free. You just need to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

Using the ‘republish’ button on our website is the easiest way to meet our guidelines.


You cannot edit the article.

When republishing, you have to credit our authors, ideally in the byline. You have to credit Particle with a link back to the original publication on Particle.

If you’re republishing online, you must use our pageview counter, link to us and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished. It’s a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the ‘republish’ then you’ll capture our page counter.

If you’re republishing in print, please email us to let us so we know about it (we get very proud to see our work republished) and you must include the Particle logo next to the credits. Download logo here.

If you wish to republish all our stories, please contact us directly to discuss this opportunity.


Most of the images used on Particle are copyright of the photographer who made them.

It is your responsibility to confirm that you’re licensed to republish images in our articles.


All Particle videos can be accessed through YouTube under the Standard YouTube Licence.

The Standard YouTube licence

  1. This licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’, granting provisions for YouTube to display the content, and YouTube’s visitors to stream the content. This means that the content may be streamed from YouTube but specifically forbids downloading, adaptation, and redistribution, except where otherwise licensed. When uploading your content to YouTube it will automatically use the Standard YouTube licence. You can check this by clicking on Advanced Settings and looking at the dropdown box ‘License and rights ownership’.
  2. When a user is uploading a video he has license options that he can choose from. The first option is “standard YouTube License” which means that you grant the broadcasting rights to YouTube. This essentially means that your video can only be accessed from YouTube for watching purpose and cannot be reproduced or distributed in any other form without your consent.


For more information about using our content, email us:

Copy this HTML into your CMS
Press Ctrl+C to copy

We've got chemistry. Want something physical?