There's your basic paper airplane, the one that's folded fast out of sheet of notebook paper cribbed from your buddy. It will go well enough to fly the few feet to the front of the class --not that we at the library are promoting any such thing, mind you! But the design of your basic paper airplane lacks features that could carry it higher and farther than you might imagine.
Kids and adults who get into paper airplanes as hobby have discovered how to make airplanes that travel far and fast by paying attention to a little something called aerodynamics, or how things move through the air. The shape of an airplane has a lot to do with its ability to stay aloft. Would a paper airplane fly better if it looked more like a real plane? Probably not, explains Ken Blackburn, who holds a Guiness record for his airplaines. Because paper isn't as strong as steel, the wings on a paper craft need to be shorter. This is called a "low aspect ratio". Longer wings (high aspect ratio) help with maneuvers on real airplanes, but they're not needed for something that's just supposed to shoot fast across the room.
You can find lots of books on paper airplanes in the library. Paper airplane creators have also put some of their best designs on the Web.
Check our Paper Airplane book list and then check out books filled with cool designs for aircraft you can build.
On the Web
The National Paper Airplane Contest
"Calling all paper airplane experts! Start a Paper Airplane Contest in your school and prove just how far and how long your airplanes can fly. It's a fun way to learn about aerodynamics!"
The Wright Brothers: Adventure Wing
"For some of us, it's not enough to study history. Some would rather get hands on with their historic subjects and actually share in the adventure. As you can guess from all the flying replicas we show in our virtual exhibits, the Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company understands those kinds of people. And so we built this Adventure Wing for those of you have the gumption to roll up you sleeves and make a little history." Most models do require a few basic materials besides paper.