Alert Level Lockdown 3/4 Online Learning Programme

Design a Paper Airplane Launcher

Learning Intention: 

“I am learning…  to design, build, and test a paper airplane launcher.” (Understand how potential energy is converted to kinetic energy when using the launcher.)



How do airplanes take off from aircraft carriers if they are so much shorter than regular runways? (See photos)

A regular airport runway is much longer than an aircraft carrier. The biggest aircraft carrier is just over 300 m long, but airport runways can typically be more than 1000 m long.


Today we will do an experiment to find out how airplanes can take off over such a short distance.


Make a paper airplane (see pdf. file with folding instructions) or use your own design!

Make sure that the paper airplane flies well.

If it does not reliably fly straight - make another one.

Test how far you can throw your paper airplane.

Throw the plane 5 times and record your results. Use your entire arm.

Next, test how far you can throw your plane when only using your wrist (Do not move your shoulder or elbow when throwing). Again, throw 5 times and record results in your worksheet.

You’ll observe that it's difficult to throw the plane far when you can only move your wrist.


Activity Instructions:


Let’s design and construct an airplane launcher!

or search:

Make a Paper Airplane Launcher Science Buddies (YouTube)


Look at the photos of airplane launchers. This will give you a basic idea of what your launcher could look like!


Collect your construction materials!

Construction materials to make paper airplane launchers.

You can use different materials depending on what you have available, for example:


Paper clips


Rubber bands

Tape measures


Corrugated cardboard and duct tape

Wooden craft sticks and a hot glue gun

Building toys like LEGO® or K'NEX®

Wooden boards and nails or screws

Open space to throw the airplanes. This project works best indoors unless there is almost no wind outside.


Sketch your design.

Build a prototype of your launcher and do some initial tests to make sure it works.

Does it have any major problems, like the paper airplane getting snagged or colliding with the launcher when it is launched, or the launcher not being sturdy enough to support the stretched rubber band? Try and fix all problems.

Use the launcher 5 times and record your results – use the worksheet.



How did the paper airplane flight distances compare between the three different launching methods?



It is very difficult to throw a paper airplane far using only your wrist. Your wrist cannot move as much, so it is difficult to get the airplane going fast enough over such a short distance. Using the rubber band launcher allows you to make the plane go much farther using a very short launch distance.



How is the rubber band launcher similar to an aircraft carrier catapult?



The rubber band lets us store a lot of energy even when it is only stretched a relatively short distance. This energy is converted to the kinetic energy of the paper airplane, so the paper airplane can get going very vast over a very short distance.


You are welcome to share your results – just take a photo and email it to me!

Please email if you have any questions.


Have fun!

Mr. Strydom






Airplane Launcher
Adobe Acrobat Document 189.8 KB