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Airplane projects are easy, cheap, popular, and fun — but suffer from 2 problems.
1. Lack of standardization in the procedure (i.e. the throwing)
2. Lack of creativity
This post is to help you get past these obstacles.
Your first big challenge is to find a way to standardize the throwing part of the procedure. Think about ways to make sure the throw (or release) is the same each time – your arm is just not precise enough. If you drop it from a decent height, you may not need to propel it forward. Alternatively, could you build something to launch it? (HINT: think catapult). Also think about where you will do the experiment and how you might have to handle variables such as wind or air conditioning or heating drafts.
Assuming you find a way to standardize the experimental procedure, your next challenge is to decide what it is you want to manipulate (independent variable) and what you will measure (dependent variable).
Quantitative variables you can measure may include:
• Maximum or Average distance flown (length)
• Maximum or Average time in air (time)
• Minimum or Average distance from straight line (angle from center line)
• Maximum or Average additional weight carried a set distance (payload = weight)
• Precision (degree of variation between trials)
• Accuracy (angle and distance from target)
You are not restricted to just one dependent variable and, generally, the more you measure, the more data you will generate. Ultimately, this will translate into a more detailed project and a better grade. Next, figure out which independent variable you will change to see if it has an impact. Here are three strategies. You need to pick ONE for each set of experiments (repeated 3 times), but since they are quick trials, you could evaluate more than one independent variable. The more you do, the better the project.
Remember that EACH plane must either (1) be thrown at least 3 times (5 to 10 times would be better) OR (2) you need to make 3 copies of the plane and throw each 1 time (this is technically better)
Strategy #1: Use the SAME paper airplane design and the SAME amount of paper (in square centimeters), and vary ONE of the following:
• Type of paper
• Weight of paper
• Thickness of paper
• Texture of paper (smooth vs. rough)
• Color of paper
• Integrity of paper (with and without holes/tears)
• Paper with and without paint or other coating
• Paper with and without extra weights like staples
Strategy #2: Hold all of variables listed above constant and vary:
• Airplane design (there are many types found online or in books) – making sure you make each design with the same type and amount of paper
Strategy #3: Pick one airplane design and one type of paper and vary:
• Amount of paper, such that you will have similar style planes out of the same type of paper, but of varying sizes – at least three, but more would be better.