Paper Airplane Instructions

paper airplane instructions

After completing my previous book (30 Planes for the Paper Pilot), I received many inquiries from people asking me “how do you create these designs, how do I go about designing my own paper airplane?” After much thought, I realized that a whole new subject had been broached. The Paper Ace, in addition to teaching how to make 10 well-developed paper airplanes, explains in detail how a paper airplane design works, and all of the aerodynamic forces that are acting upon it. With this book, you can learn how to choose the set of aerodynamic characteristics that you – the designer, wish to have, and incorporate them in a paper airplane of your own design.

The Paper Ace is a course in paper airplane aerodynamics. It shows how and why paper airplanes fly through the fabrication of these 10 designs – all of which are highly refined and are the result of hundreds of hours of wind tunnel development.

If you enjoy flying paper airplanes, you’ll find that by creating your designs opens up a whole new realm of understanding flight. Personally, I get a real thrill seeing a new design take to the air and seeing its flight characteristics. I truly hope this book will help you realize your dream of mastering the art of paper flight. Happy flying!

Before you construct your paper airplane, you must decide what your flight goals are. If you’re going to fly your plane indoors, you need different design qualities than if you’re going to fly it outdoors. The following chart will help you decide where to begin.

WingMaterial QualitiesExtra Lift Devices
High Wing Loading
LEX Delta
Heavier or double-weight bond paper
Index or business
More paper clips
Low Aspect Ratio
LEX Delta
Constant cord
Low Wing Loading
Bond paper
Few paper clips
Speed (slow)
Blown flaps
High Aspect Ratio

* Only if you have high aspect ratio

The most important thing to remember when making a paper airplane is to take your time. To the best of your ability, you should make the wings mirror images of each other. Make your folds crisp and neat to ensure that nothing hangs out in the airflow. A little extra time is well spent, and will show in the flying qualities of the paper airplane.

The paper airplane instructions in The Paper Ace are constructed using 8 ½” X 11” or 8 ½” X 14” copy paper, 5” X 8” index cards, business cards, plastic straws (straight, not bendable), tape or 5-minute epoxy, hot glue and paper clips. Plastic straws generally vary from 6 7/8” to 8 ¼”, and almost always have a slight curve to them. Use this curve to your best advantage. Conventionally configured aircraft, as well as canard types, require a different angle of incidence between the wing and horizontal surfaces or fore plane. This is paramount for stability. The curve in the straw can be used toward this advantage, by sighting down the straw and mark the inside of this slight curve with a pencil. This mark is at what is now the top of the straw. This technique can help you improve the performance of your airplane by reducing control surface deflection and thereby reducing drag, therefore boosting performance slightly for little effort.

I have discovered a new method of folding slats, flaps, trim tabs, etc., that uses a ruler to ensure a crisp neat fold. When you have determined where you want your fold to be, place a ruler across the two points and – using care to guard against paper cuts – lift and fold the paper using the ruler as a hinge line. In this manner the hinge line is perfectly straight and the control surface is uniform. Be sure to make the fold uniformly and gently along the entire surface, thereby reducing distortion.

If you encounter problems with your paper airplane, take a look at the following checklist and for possible corrections to be made. Of course, your imagination is your only limitation. I designed some of my favorite airplanes when I disregarded the rules of aerodynamics a bit. I find that designing, fabricating, and even modifying existing planes, is a creative and always a learning experience.

To aid in epoxying vertical fins, I use a “Gluing Fixture” as show below. It is nothing more than a scrap piece of index card material with a cut halfway through the fold. This holds the vertical fin sufficiently while the epoxy cures. I much prefer to use hot glue instead.

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Paper Airplane Problem Checklist

If your paper plane doesn’t fly to your satisfaction, be sure you are launching it properly. Hold your paper airplane at its approximate center of gravity, at a wings level, slightly nose down attitude, and launch with a gentle release. If you are sure your launching technique is correct, double-check your trim tabs and plane design according to the following table.

If Your Plane...You Should...
Turns leftCut and slightly bend the rudder trim tabs to the right.
Turns rightCut and slightly bend the rudder trim tabs to the left.
Nose pitches upAdd paper clips to the nose or reduce amount of nose-up trim by bending trim tabs down slightly.
Nose pitches downRemove paper clips (opposite of above). Bend elevator
trim tabs up slightly.
Noses over and dives and dips downRemove one or two paper clips. Add or increase nose up trim of the trim tabs
Has short glideIncrease wing area by redesigning the wing or reduce the weight and slow flight lift devices such as flaps
Wings fold up Redesign your airplane to increase wing strength by reducing wing span or aspect ratio
Corkscrews left or right Check leading edge slat deployment to sure it is
Flies non-stop for three hoursSend us a video!