Hold a 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!
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12
Follow these instructions to hold your own paper airplane contest! Students can participate individually, in teams, or as a class.
Students can choose to build two different types of paper airplanes. One paper airplane should be designed to fly as far as possible. The other paper airplane will need to stay in the air as long as possible.
Before building their paper airplanes, students should research the basics of aerodynamics and flight. Check out our list of books and online teaching resources at the bottom of this page for research materials.
NOTE: Cardboard planes and planes made from paper airplane kits should not be used. The teacher is responsible for checking the materials in the planes to make sure they are made out of only the allowed materials listed below.
Building the Paper Airplanes
- Encourage students to research aerodynamics before they begin designing their own planes. Print out copies of "What Makes Paper Airplanes Fly?" for students to read or provide your own research materials.
- Hand out four 8.5"x11" sheets of copy paper to each competitor or team. The students must use the paper given to them, though they may choose to use one or two sheets per paper airplane.
- Provide the following optional materials for each competitor or team. Explain to the students that the following materials are not required, but may be used if the students desire.
- one standard paper clip
- three inches of tape
- a dab of glue
- three staples
- Allow the students to work on their paper airplanes for as long as you see fit. All competitors should have the same amount of time to complete their airplanes.
Distance Test Rules
For the distance category, each student throws his or her paper airplane while the teacher records distances in feet and inches. All distances must be measured from the starting line to the point where the plane first touches the ground or floor -- not the final resting place if it slides. Each student has up to three chances to get his or her best distance.
Time in Air Test Rules
For the time in air category, each student throws his or her airplane while the teacher times the flights with an accurate stopwatch. Report the times in seconds and hundredths of a second. (Example: 2.45 seconds.) Each student has up to three chances to get his or her longest "time in air."
Announcing the Winners
When all the results are in, determine two winners: the student or team who makes the airplane that flies the farthest and the student or team who makes the airplane that flies the longest time.
Online Teaching Resources
Use this article about the aerodynamics of paper airplanes to accompany the National Paper Airplane Contest.
Help your students explore the history and science of flight with the National Air and Space Museum! Visit their website for online exhibits about air travel and space exploration, as well as support material for teachers, lesson plans, demonstration ideas, and hands-on activities. Be sure to check out the How Things Fly exhibit before you make your paper airplanes!
Based on the work of flight pioneer Orville Wright, this online text contains his accounts of the first trials and flight of the Wright brothers' airplane, as well as black-and-white photographs.