Floating Paper Plane – Sick Science!

Create an airplane that will hover in place. Is it magic or science?

THIS WAS PART OF AN APRIL FOOL'S DAY PRANK!

 

We don't know if the Wright Brothers ever made the attempt, but Steve Spangler has defied the odds to create a hovering airplane. We don't suggest any passengers (because they wouldn't fit), but this Floating Paper Plane is a great hands-on science tool for teaching the science behind airplanes, lift and drag, and principles of air.

Experiment Materials

  • Sheets of 8.5" x 11" paper
  • Two fans of the same type and size
  • Ruler
  • April Fool's Day

APRIL FOOL'S!

 

Experiment

  1. Fold a standard paper plane. If you don't know how to make a paper plane, check out the video for the experiment.
  2. The plane must be perfectly symmetrical. You might want to use a ruler to make sure your plane has perfect symmetry. 
  3. Make the creases as sharp and tight as possible. 
  4. Do not allow the wings, nose, or tail of the plane to become crumpled.
  5. Set up the two fans so that they face each other and are roughly two feet apart.
  6. Turn the fans on to their lowest setting and make sure they are blowing directly towards each other.
  7. Try setting your paper plane in the exact middle of the two fans. A slight deviation from the middle may cause the plane to fly off course or crash into the ground.
  8. You may have to experiment with the distance of the two fans depending on the type and size of your fan.
  9. Once you have the fans at the perfect distance, you should be able to set your plane right in the middle and watch it float.

How Does It Work?

The Floating Paper Plane is a phenomenal, hands-on method of teaching younger students the principles behind how an airplane flies. The topics of lift and drag and Bernoulli's Principle can often be too confusing to understand with a visual representation, so this small scale demonstration should provide you with exactly what you need.

The first scientific principle at work is lift-induced drag. Lift-induced drag uses the angle of the airplane's wings and relative airflow to cause the plane to rise, fall, or maintain a constant altitude. The angle of your paper airplane's wings directs the airflow so that it causes just enough drag to maintain a constant lift, making the airplane hover rather than rise or fall.

Lift-induced drag is, more or less, a side effect of Bernoulli's Principle. The relative airflow on either side of the wing of the plane creates an area of low pressure as it moves through.  This enables the plane to float in a balanced fashion between the low pressure areas created by the movement of air.

Additional Info

So… the Floating Paper Plane experiment doesn't actually work. It's an April Fool's Day (or if you happen to be reading this in any other month of the year) hoax. If you want to see how it was actually done, click here.

Observations

  • Try performing this experiment with a different type of paper plane.
  • Does construction paper work better than regular white paper?