Art & Maker Wednesdays: Design Challenge – Paper Airplanes

Today’s challenge is to make a paper airplane that can glide AND carry cargo! We’re also going to learn about the aerodynamics of lift, drag, thrust, and weight. 

Materials & Instructions

Paper (several different kinds if possible)
Coins, LEGOS, or other small, light objects
A doorway

First, follow along with Mr. DeWayne in the video to build your paper airplane. Once you have your plane, tape your coins, LEGOS, or other objects to your airplane. Remember that planes have to carry people, suitcases, and other cargo when they fly!

Next, you want to find a doorway to use as your target. Your goal will be to fly your cargo plane through the doorway to prove it can fly.  Next, tape a line about ten feet from the front of your doorway. We’re going to try to get our airplane all the way to that tape. Once you’re ready, launch your airplane!

Discussion Questions & Lesson

How far did it glide?
What happens if you add more weight or take away all the weights?
What happens if you use a different type of paper?
Are there any other paper airplane designs you can imagine and test?

Today we saw four forces called lift, drag, thrust, and weight. These are important words that we use whenever we talk about aerodynamics! When we launched our paper airplane into the air, we provided the thrust it needed to glide. As it flew, there were three other forces acting on it. Lift, created by the air moving over the wings, caused the airplane to stay in the air despite its weight pulling it down to the ground. The force of the air around the plane, or drag, pushed backward on the plane even while it flew forward; but thanks to thrust, the plane was still able to glide.

Vocab Words

Cargo: Items that are carried by ship, aircraft, or motor vehicle.
Lift: The force that keeps the airplane in the air. If we don’t have enough lift, the weight of the airplane will pull it down to the ground! Most of the lift comes from the airplane’s wings.
Drag: The force of the air pushing the airplane in the opposite direction it’s going. When your airplane flew through the room, there was air in the room that pushed against it. Your airplane needed enough thrust to keep it moving.
Thrust: The force that moves an airplane through the air. Most of the time this force is caused by engines, but we provided thrust for our paper airplanes when we launched them into the air.
Weight: The force of gravity that pulls items like your airplane down to the Earth.
Glide: To move smoothly and quietly; to fly through the air without an engine.
Aerodynamics: A type of science that studies the movement of air and how it reacts to solid objects (like airplanes).


Image of TeMika Grooms and the children's book she illustrated with Raphael Warnock, "Put Your Shoes On & Get Ready!"
Ms. Grooms and CMA team Member Nashana Pritchett Children's Museum of Atlanta was excited to ...
written by Mandy Hester, Social Media Coordinator at Children's Museum of Atlanta Have you ever ...
Children’s Museum of Atlanta  is delighted to be a recipient of a grant from Fulton County ...