Beyond Traditional Paper Airplanes

Traditional paper airplanes can do great things. They are a fine tradition, to be celebrated and protected. Why would you use non-traditional methods to make paper aircraft? Well, because traditional construction methods are not optimal. Amazing things have been accomplished with them because many capable people have worked very hard. However, other methods allow greater performance, versatility, durability, and sometimes easier construction. When you make a paper airplane, wouldn’t be nice if you just visualize what you want, and make it? If you can only fold, you need a way to fold the paper where you want it. If you want to rearrange these blocks, would you rather unstack and restack them the way you want, or deal with Rubik’s cube? or deal with Rubik’s cube? Folding paper makes it smaller, concentrating weight in a smaller craft. What if you want a big airplane? or something lightweight? Even if you get the right shape, it has to be properly balanced. Folding complicated shapes piles up paper somewhere, which you don’t want on the tail of an airplane that must stay lightweight to balance. Pockets and steps left over from folding can disrupt aerodynamics, cost lift, and add drag. Lose edges can be a real problem without tape. There are a few folding patterns that close up an airplane, but they may not close it tightly enough, or give you the design you want. Piling up folds, especially folding across folds, distorts the paper, causing warps that can make it hard to get the desired airfoil and trim. Good paper working and smoothing techniques help, but cutting and rejoining can avoid excessive layer folding. Constructing an aircraft from separate pieces makes it much easier to make the shape, structure and balance you want, once you master some new techniques. A paper aircraft must be stiff and strong in the right places, and in the right directions. Loose wing layer back edges can leave wings somewhat weak. If they are carefully bonded shut, the wing becomes stiff and resists bending, and twisting. The strength doesn’t come from tape, which is flimsy. It comes from layers of paper properly bonded together, to make a closed shape. This wing is thick enough it is easy to see. Stiff wings and fins reduce high speed vibration and flutter, which reduces drag to fly farther. The wings need to be thin to reduce drag, but they may be weakened if they are too flat, or can pinch flat. It is possible to keep a wing thin with just Origami, or to close it tightly with expert cut and fold techniques, however it is easier to just tape it shut, because gaps can create weak spots. These techniques make it easier to have separate wing and tail surfaces that are stiff and lightweight, which allows better pitch stability and greater freedom to put different airfoils on the wings for better performance. It also makes it easier to adjust how much the structure flexes at high speed to optimize trim for a wide range of flight conditions. If you combine that with the freedom to make almost any shape, properly balanced and strong in whatever places and directions you need, it becomes much easier to get good performance out of non-traditional construction. Once you master the skills, you can just go right after want you need, instead of spending lots of time figuring out if there is a good enough folded solution. Here is an example. This little YF-22 was made from notebook filler paper, cut so the folded layers give the right stiffness and balance, with no extra weight or warping. Lightweight tails were taped on. All edges were sealed to make stiff closed shapes. It is 1/10 the maximum PAA weight limit, making it highly maneuverable and aerobatic, yet it can still fly fast, and far. The simplicity of just folding is not so simple. In fact it is very difficult and limiting! That is why the work of origami flight masters demands the utmost respect. Give non-traditional methods a try. You’ll have to learn some new things, but once you do, it will open up a whole new world of possibilities! I’m James Zongker, a non-traditional designer and Guinness record setter in paper aviation. To see more, see the comments and links below this video.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. Origami is awesome but not the only way. Nice to see someone else who feels the same! Do you plan on publishing a how to or plan for some of the more approachable looking fighters in this video? The one that can do a tiny loop or a long glide looks really cool, and not too complicated.

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