High-Performance Paper Airplanes

Cut, Glue, and Fly

Paper Plane Flight School: Throwing

You’ve built a paper plane, now you’re ready to fly it? Let’s learn how!

(Don’t have a plane yet? Go here to get one)



  1. Do Basic Trimming before trying to fly. Without trimming, it will be impossible to learn to throw the plane correctly.
  2. Start on a day with no wind, no breeze. All of this is easier to learn when the air is still. You’ll have to learn what time of day has the least breeze where you live. In most places, early morning is your best bet. Once the sun comes up and starts heating the ground, breezes pick up. In some places, it is also common for the air to get still about 10 minutes after sunset.
  3. This is going to take practice. If it isn’t working, stop and think about what might have gone wrong, then make 1 change and try again a couple times. Work carefully and methodically.

The Goal

You’re trying to get the plane to enter a slow, stable glide as high as possible. From there it will slowly spiral back down to earth.

Done correctly, you should be able to get 15 second flights.

4 phases

The launch has 4 distinct phases. For the longest possible flights, you’ll need to pay attention to each phase:


You must throw so that the climb ends with the plane in the correct speed & orientation to enter a slow, stable glide.


The plane starts out travelling very fast when it leaves your hand, but loses speed as it climbs. Ideally, it transitions to a glide before it completely runs out of speed and falls back down.


In a flawless transition, the nose drops just enough to enter the glide, but no more. For some launch techniques, the plane will also roll from inverted to upright.


You want a steady, slow glide, with a gentle circle to the left.

Which technique to use?

There are 2 basic techniques:

  1. Spiral
  2. Half-roll at top

Which technique you use depends on how quickly the plane rolls upright when it is banked. This is affected by the design of the plane and how it is trimmed.

If the plane rolls slowly, use the spiral technique. The spiral technique relies on a slow roll to gain height. If it rolls out too quickly, it will roll out of the spiral before it gets any height.

If the plane rolls quickly, use the half-roll technique. The plane needs to roll upright very quickly at the top of the climb. If the plane rolls over too slowly, it will lose a lot of height.

Test: Throw the plane straight ahead with 60 degrees of bank. Does it immediately roll upright? (Use half-roll). Or does it stay banked? (Use spiral)


All these instructions assume you are throwing with your right hand and that your plane is trimmed to circle to the left. If you are left handed, you can reverse all the directions and trim your plane to circle to the right.


  1. Hold the body of the plane under the wings between thumb and index finger.
  2. Roll the plane 90 degrees right, so the left wing is pointing straight up.
  3. Throw straight ahead and slightly up. (How much up? About 10 or 15 degrees above horizontal. Not so much that the plane loops over and flies back down)

The plane will spiral around to the right, climbing as it circles. It will also be slowly rolling to the left, out of the spiral. After making 1-2 circles it will have rolled out completely and should transition to a slow left-hand circle on the way down.

How fast?

Start with moderate speed before throwing faster. If you throw too fast, the paper will start to flex and flutter, and you’ll get inconsistent results.

Half-roll at top

  1. Hold the body of the plane under the wings between thumb and index finger.
  2. Hold the wings level.
  3. Throw the plane at an upward angle. Start with 45 degrees up from horizontal.

The plane will pull up into a loop. At the top of the loop, the plane will have slowed down and will be flying upside down (inverted). It should then quickly roll over to upright flight, and start gliding back down in a slow left circle.

How fast?

Start with moderate speed before throwing faster. If you throw too fast, the paper will start to flex and flutter, and you’ll get inconsistent results.

What angle?

The angle at which you throw the plane up depends on how much it is going to pull up. You have to adjust the angle and speed so that at the very top of the climb, the plane is flying level but inverted.

If the plane barely pulls up at all when launched, you’ll have to throw it up almost vertically in order to get it to pull to level.

If the plane pulls up very hard when launched, it won’t work to throw it vertically: it will just loop back around to the ground. Instead, throw the plane at 45 degrees or even straight ahead.

If the plane keeps looping around, you might be throwing it too hard. Try a slower throw so it runs out of speed at the top of the loop and has to transition.

Problems & Solutions

If you’re having problems launching with one of the techniques, try the other one. If you’re trying a spiral launch, for example, you may have better results with the half-roll launch.

Problem: Swoops during glide

At peak of climb, nose drops too much and plane doesn’t enter a stable glide. It does a series of swoops instead, wasting energy.

Two possible scenarios:

  1. The nose is too high right before the transition. Throw a little slower so the plane transitions to glide before the nose gets so high.
  2. The angle you’re launching at puts the plane in the wrong orientation at transition time. Try launching at a different angle.

Problem: Plane flies straight up then falls

At peak of climb, plane is pointed straight up and fails to transition. It stalls, nose drops straight down, plane dives back to the ground, either crashing or pulling out near ground level

Try throwing faster. In a half-roll launch, the plane is supposed to do a half loop, so it is level but inverted at the top of the loop. Then it rolls over to upright flight. If you throw too slow, it will stall before it gets to the top of the loop.

Problem: Plane does a complete loop

After you throw it, the plane does a complete loop, ending up back at ground level. Most of the energy of the throw was wasted because the plane didn’t keep its height.

Three possible solutions:

  1. Don’t throw so hard. Give it a softer throw so the plane almost comes to a stop at the top of the loop, then rolls from inverted to upright and starts gliding.
  2. Bend elevator down a bit to reduce the looping tendency. You can only do this so much before it starts to dive though. If it starts to dive, bend the elevator back up a bit.
  3. Check the balance point (center of gravity) to make sure it is not too far forward. If it is too far forward, cut a little paper off the nose to move balance point towards tail. You’ll need to bend the elevator down too.

Problem: Every flight is drastically different

Plane does something different every time you throw it. On one launch, it dives into the ground. On the next, it pulls up wildly. On the next, it spirals and crashes.

  1. Is there a breeze? Wait for calm air, where no leaves are moving.
  2. Are you throwing too hard? At high speeds, the paper can flex, flutter, etc.
  3. Is anything coming unglued? Breaking? If the tail is coming unglued, for example, it can lift up in flight and the plane will fly unpredictably.

Happy flying!