Here’s a fun toy for kids to make! Use a file folder, a piece of paper, and a rubber band to make the coolest paper airplane launcher. It’s so fun to send paper planes soaring across the room!
Our easy wooden paper airplane launcher has more power, so if you’re going for maximum distance, you’ll want to check that one out. However, this paper airplane launcher uses simpler supplies and is still tons of fun. This would be so easy (and affordable) to do with a class, STEM club, or scout troop.
This paper airplane launcher is a toy, but also an engineering challenge for kids. You can easily make it a science experiment by testing different sizes of paper planes, different thicknesses of rubber bands, or different lengths for the launcher. You can also experiment with the trajectory of the launch to observe how that changes the distance the plane travels.
The idea from this project came from… a TikTok video! HA! My oldest son saw it on Instagram and sent it to me. There were no explanations, just some quick video instructions. We did a lot of experimenting and figured out how to best make this project work!
How it Works:
This file folder paper airplane launcher propels the plane forward with the tension of a rubber band. Pull the sides of the launcher to release the rubber band, and the plane shoots forward!
- File folder
- Origami paper
- Rubber band
Square origami paper works so well for folding the paper airplanes! It’s lightweight and travels really far with this launcher. We tried regular copy paper too. It works, but it’s heavier and won’t travel quite as far.
The original video seemed to show origami paper for both the plane and the launcher. We tried that, and the launcher just collapsed. I highly recommend using a file folder instead. If you don’t have one, card stock would be another good option.
First, mark of a rectangle on the bottom of your file folder. You want the folded edge to be part of your rectangle.
Make the rectangle 4.5 inches x 7 inches. (Although I don’t think the size needs to be THAT exact. This was the first size we tried, and it worked!)
Cut out the rectangle. Don’t cut the folded edge! Your rectangle should still open like a folder.
Fold one side of the folder down to the folded edge. Then flip it over and do the same thing on the other side.
Then fold each side back up to the top and crease well. The finished product should look like this.
Open up your file folder again. Use a stapler to attach a small rubber band near one end of the file folder.
Then make a paper airplane! We just folded a classic dart plane out of a piece of square origami paper.
Now it’s time to load the airplane launcher!
Stretch the rubber band around the front of the launcher. Pull it towards the back…
Pull the rubber band around the back end of the airplane launcher. Make sure that the rubber band sits close to the top edge.
Then slide the paper airplane into the slot formed by the top edges of the file folder. Make sure that the plane sits all the way back against the rubber band.
Then just pull outward on the sides of the launcher. This frees the rubber band and launches the plane forward!
Want to see a demonstration? Click the play button to start the video:
Make it a Science Experiment:
I gave some tips above for making this a science experiment, but I wanted to add a few more details. This project lends itself really well to a distance test!
Compare the distance traveled with:
- A plane made with origami paper vs. a plane made with copy paper
- A plane launched from a horizontal angle vs. a plane pointed upward
- A thicker rubber band vs. a thinner rubber band
Because of the unpredictable nature of a paper airplane (sometimes they zoom straight, and sometimes they veer to one side), I would perform each test at least 5 times and average the results. That’s great math practice.
Need more STEM challenge ideas?
Here are 30+ STEM Challenges with simple or recycled materials! Make popsicle stick gears, play dough marble runs, and so much more.
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