The exact origins of the humble paper plane are unclear. Some say it stems from ancient China where kites were made from papyrus; others point to Japan and its origami pioneers. Renaissance polymath and all-round clever clogs Leonardo Da Vinci is also suggested to have featured on the timeline as he developed prototypes for his madcap flying machine, the ornithopter.

Precisely when the first paper plane was flown we’ll probably never know, but its popularity shows no sign of running out of fuel. Visit almost any school in Australia (or around the world) and you will likely find the remnants of paper plane crash sites in the playgrounds, as well as the soaring successes stuck in neighbouring trees. 

The appeal of creating paper plane designs is understandable – it’s an activity that is great fun and very cost effective. But it also teaches children the fundamentals of aerodynamics and air resistance (although that sounds dangerously like a physics lesson, so maybe keep that quiet). Plus, paper folding challenges their fine motor skills and the repeated test runs develop problem-solving skills and creativity, the basis of STEM learning.

Whether you use a model-building kit or a single sheet of A4 paper, the aim of the game is distance. How far your paper plane design will fly has fascinated kids and aviation experts alike for many years. 

The previous world record was only recently broken, by South Korean Kim Kyu Tae (famed for his “rocket arm”), who threw his plane a whopping 77.134 metres on 16 April 2022. The designer of the plane, Chee Yie Jian, outlined the key considerations when building a plane, “Designs can vary greatly with an infinite combination of paper type, weight, geometry, and balance."

Here, we’re going to build three simple paper planes and test how far they fly. All you need is a stack of paper, a tape measure and two willing pilots, Leo, aged 10, and Elliott, 7. For each model we will have three flights and take an average distance from that (by adding the scores for all flights and dividing by three). 

Paper Plane #1: The Basic Dart

The basic dart is the simplest and most common of all paper plane designs.

First off is the classic: the basic dart. Most people have built some version of this paper plane in their lives, then often move on to more advanced models. But, hey, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

How Did It Fly?

Throw 1: 406 cm

Throw 2: 386 cm

Throw 3: 367 cm

Average distance: 386 cm

The Verdict 

“Pretty good, it spun less when we folded the sides of the wings up.” – Leo

Download PDF for full instructions.

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Paper Plane #2: The Bulldog Dart

This development of the basic paper plane is still achievable in a small number of folds. The snub nose is the defining characteristic of this model. 

How Did It Fly?

Throw 1: 459 cm

Throw 2: 507 cm

Throw 3: 522 cm

Average distance: 496 cm

The Verdict

“Better than the basic dart, but doesn’t fly very straight! I think we need to adjust the wings.” – Elliott

With some simple paper folding you can create a more complex paper plane called the bulldog dart.

Download PDF for full instructions.

Hot Tip: To hold your paper plane together, you could try a small piece of double-sided tape inside the middle fold. 

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Paper Plane #3: The Harrier

 Get ready to go the distance when you create this Harrier paper plane design.

This is a much smaller, more compact paper plane than the previous two. The folding techniques are slightly more advanced too, but still achievable for children of all ages. How Did It Fly?

Throw 1: 486 cm

Throw 2: 581 cm

Throw 3: 710 cm

Average distance: 592 cm

The Verdict

“Goes very far, but it goes really high and then down. It’s like a stunt plane.” – Leo

The Harrier is the most aerodynamic of our paper plane designs, flying almost six metres.

Download PDF for full instructions.

The Verdict

All the paper planes flew well, but we found it’s worth a little extra effort to make the Harrier. Its initial take-off trajectory was much steeper, and that early climb equaled a far greater overall distance. Try all the paper plane designs and see which one works best for you. Happy flying!

What to Try

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