These instructions will guide your students in making paper airplanes and competing in two categories: distance traveled and time spent in the air. Students can participate in this activity individually, in teams, or as a class.
Students should build two different types of paper airplanes. One paper airplane should be designed to fly as far as possible. The other paper airplane should be designed 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 book list and online teaching resources in the Hold a Paper Airplane Contest collection for research materials.
Note: Cardboard planes and planes made from paper airplane kits should not be used. Make sure you make this clear to students and then check the materials in students' planes to make sure they are made out of only the allowed materials listed below.
Building the Paper Airplanes
Step 1: 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.
Step 2: Hand out four 8.5" x 11" sheets of copy paper to each competitor or team. Students must use the paper given to them, though they may choose to use one or two sheets per paper airplane.
Step 3: Provide the following optional materials for each competitor or team. Explain to 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
Step 4: Allow 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 must throw his or her paper airplane while you record 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 must throw his or her airplane while you time 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 made the airplane that flew the farthest and the student or team who made the airplane that flew for the longest time.