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PAPER AIRPLANE ACTIVITY
Overview
In the paper airplane activity students select and build one of
five different paper airplane designs and test them for distance and
for time aloft. Part of this activity is designed to explore NASA
developed software, FoilSim,
with respect to the lift of an airfoil and the surface area of a
wing.
Materials
Technology Needed
 Internet Access
 Graphing Calculator (optional)
Time Required
Classroom Organization
 Students should work in groups of 3 or 4.
Procedure
 Give students a sheet of unlined paper and instructions for
construction of a paper airplane (See download above).
 Students should give their plane a name using the
aviation
alphabet. (Example N 831 FE represents November 831 Foxtrot
Echo. Identification numbers and letters must not exceed 7; and
the identification must begin with N, which stands for the
United States.)
 Students should determine the area of the wings of their
planes. If students are able, have them unfold their planes and
lay out basic geometric shapes to fill the wing area. Then have
them calculate the total area from the sum of the areas of the
shapes. (See example.
Use "back arrow" to return here.)
If students are not able to calculate geometric areas, they could
make a duplicate plane, cut off the wings, and lay the wings onto
measured grids or pieces of graph paper and count the total
squares covered, estimating partial squares.
A variation of this technique that eliminates a duplicate plane
and cutting wings is to draw or trace a grid on a blank
transparency with a sharpie marker and then hold the clear grid
over the wings to count squares covered.
 Have students fly their planes in the gym or hallway or other
large indoors area (to eliminate wind effects) five times, each
time trying for maximum distance. Stress trying to duplicate the
same launch angle and speed. Now do another five trials, this time
trying for maximum time aloft. Students should record their
distances and times and average the three longest distances and
the three longest times.
 Have students put their data onto a graph for the class, one
graph of time aloft vs. wing area and the other of distance vs.
wing area.
 Discuss the results from the graphs as a class, and then ask
for predictions as to what would happen if the wings were made
smaller.
 Have the students draw a line two centimeters from and
parallel to the trailing edges of their wings, and then cut that 2
cm portion off the wings (Shown in red).
The cut off part should be tucked on the inside of the plane when
it is refolded in order to keep mass constant. You might ask the
class to provide an explanation for doing this.
 Repeat steps three through six.
 Have the students investigate their results using
FoilSim. They should set the ANGLE OF ATTACK to 5 degrees
and then vary only the area of the wing and note the effect on the
value of LIFT. They can compare these results to their own
experimental results.
 ADDITIONAL QUESTION: "Why don't all planes have the biggest
wing area possible? Why do some fighter jets have small wings?"
(ANSWER: There are other factors that contribute to lift, such as
velocity and shape of the wing. The weight of a plane is also very
important.) Students can investigate these other factors by going
through the lessons that are part of FoilSim.
Extension Activity
Assessment Strategies/Evaluation
 Each group could make a presentation on their airplane and
what made its design successful.
 Students could individually graph the experimental data and
make a report.
 Challenge students to fold a better plane and explain the
reasons for changes in design.
 Students could write a summary of experimental results and
relate the variables tested.
Supplementary Resources
Related Pages
LIFT Home Page
Aeronautics Activities
Aerospace Activities Page
Aerodynamic Index
Wing Area
Wing Area Effects on Lift



