How To Make the Best Paper Airplanes - With Free Printables

Learning how to make the perfect paper airplane is a childhood rite of passage.
Learning how to make the perfect paper airplane is a childhood rite of passage.
6/4/24 - By Maureen Wilkey

Wondering how to make the best paper airplane? Read on!

Paper airplanes combine lots of kids' favorite things: crafting, vehicles, science experiments, and throwing things. You also don't have to buy endless supplies or clean up paint, glue, or glitter to make them.

If your kiddo is new to making paper airplanes, it's best to start with a simple version. Then, they can experiment with more complicated paper airplane designs to see which flies the farthest or fastest or which can do the best tricks.

Read on for paper airplane instructions for everyone from beginners to advanced plane-makers. Your kids will be on their way to making the best paper airplane in no time! Once they've tackled that, visit our Crafts and Games Guide, which includes our list of 100 awesome art projects.


How to make paper airplanes, fun activities for kids, aerodynamic experiments
Start with a simple paper airplane, then work up from there. 

Simple Paper Airplane Instructions

1. Get a plain piece of 8.5 x 11-inch paper. Fold it in half hot dog-style.

2. Unfold the paper, then fold the top corners in toward the crease to make a triangle tip.

3. Fold from the bottom of the triangle parallel to the center crease to create the wings.

With just a few folds and no cutting, you have made your first paper airplane! If your kids are 5 and under, this may be enough to keep them entertained. They can decorate the plane, see how far it goes, and cut it to different lengths to see if it makes a difference in flight distance or speed.

If you have elementary school-aged kids, they may be ready for some slightly more advanced paper airplane construction.

More Complex Paper Airplane Designs

One of the first things I learned about making paper airplanes when I was young was to cut two tiny half-inch lines about an inch apart into the back of each wing to create a flap that you can fold up or down. If you fold them both up, the plane flies up. If you fold them both down, the plane nosedives. And if you fold them in different directions, the plane spirals.

This is a fun activity that adds excitement to the paper airplane-building process. Make it a science experiment by having kids hypothesize about what will happen when they fold the flaps in different directions.

Another basic change you can make is to turn the plane horizontal, so that it's short with wide wings. You can even fold the paper over on itself to make the plane heavier and see what happens. Does the plane fly slower? Stay in the air longer? Is it easier to make it spiral or dive? What happens if you make a plane with a flat nose instead of a pointed nose?

Intermediate to Advanced Paper Airplane Designs

Once your kids get bored of basic freehand folding, you can introduce them to a plethora of online paper airplane instructions, including printables and videos.

RELATED: 100 Totally Free Printable Activities for Kids

best paper airplane 
A printable will help kids learn to make a Canard. Image courtesy of Iowa State University

Paper Airplane Printables

We like the printables from Iowa State University and Fold n' Fly. These come with instructions as well as numbered lines to print onto a page so kids can fold along each line and easily construct the plane themselves.

The easiest planes to start with are the dart and the arrow, which are mildly souped-up versions of the basic paper airplane you made at the beginning of this article. Move up to planes like the raptor, the condor, or the spy plane for more stunts and air time.

Paper Airplane Instructions Without Printables

As kids get even more into plane building, introduce them to simple instructions without printables. Origami Way and HGTV are good sources.

Paper Airplane Videos

Videos are also great ways for to learn how to make the best paper airplane. Try these videos from Foldable Flight and TUK Crafts to make a paper airplane that can fly very far. These tutorials show kids how to make winglets to give the plane extra lift, locks to keep the folded pieces from drooping and creating drag, and extra stabilizers on the front or sides of the plane.

Be prepared for some frustration as your kiddo moves up the ranks. My 7-year-old got pretty mad if a plane was beyond his folding capabilities or didn't do what he was hoping for it to do. My almost-9-year-old has had some origami instruction and was able to get through some of the more difficult folds, but she didn't always think they were worth the time.

RELATED: 30 Easy Paper Crafts for Kids

How to make paper airplanes, fun activities for kids, aerodynamic experiments
Let 'em fly!

Flying Your Paper Airplanes

When you've finally tackled your best paper airplane, have fun and let it fly!

We live in a split-level house where flying the planes up and down the stairs is fun, but you can't really get a good sense of which plane can go the farthest.

So, we took the planes into the backyard and flew them off our swing set's tower. The kids were able to get some of the planes to spiral down from the tower into the middle of the yard. You can also make a target from paper or chalk on a wooden fence to see which plane flies the straightest.

As always, talk to your kids about not throwing paper airplanes at anyone's face and about being aware of their surroundings.

Photos courtesy of Canva