Paper Airplane Weight and Flight
Does the weight of a paper airplane affect the distance
that it will fly?
I have not seen the Aviator movie, but I am familiar with Howard Hughes life
The industrialist Henry Kaiser conceived the idea of giant flying boats in
1942 to ferry supplies and troops to Europe. He joined forces with Howard
Hughes who eventually took over the project. Hughes was a perfectionist and
the H-4 cost far more than planned and the war was over before it was
finished. Built largely out of wood, it was known as the 'Spruce Goose'; with
a wingspan of 320 feet it would have carried 700 troops.
On the 2nd of November 1947 Hughes flew the Spruce Goose for just over a
mile. Inset in this picture is Hughes himself at the controls, just before
The design problem that fascinated Hughes was the weight of the plane and
naturally its cargo. He proved it could work, so you see the weight, not
only of the plane but cargo has to be involved in the shape, wingspan etc..
This is a good introduction to design, you have to pick something, here say
the weight, then just take the design of the wings, how long should they be ?
But wait, the wings also have weight. So, you see design is a process of
estimating and refining the solution. That is roughly what Hughes was doing,
and it costs if you keep making models, testing them and finding they do not
work. Today, computers greatly help, as a design can be tested without
physically building a model.
Absolutely. The heavier the airplane is, the more readily it can force its
way through the air. (like the difference between throwing bricks or
throwing paper balls) However, too much weight works against a good
airplane flight, as the wings are forced to try and hold that extra weight
Probably the best paper airplane I ever made had a few pennies in the front
to properly balance it out. with just a gentle push into the air, it would
glide 20 feet or more and barely drop in height at all before hitting the
far wall of my living room. Versions of the same plane Might hardly fly at
all without the pennies, or drop straight to the ground because I had added
too much weight.
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Update: June 2012