The history of the paper airplane likely goes back considerably farther than you might think. Some credit the Chinese for its first incarnations over 2000 years ago. To give that some thought, that means the Chinese were flying these airplanes well over 1900 years before the Wright Brothers launched their gliders at Kitty Hawk and effectively invented the paper airplane. Others suggest that it was Leonardo da Vinci while he was hard at work on his designs for the ornithopter. The latter seems more believable, but that is not for a moment to take away from the Chinese. However, the modern-day iteration of the paper airplane as we know it comes after Kitty Hawk and tracks back to Jack Northrop, co-founder of the Lockheed aircraft corporation sometime in the early 1930s.
Not surprisingly, your paper airplane is going to require a fair bit of paper as you chase perfection with others' or your own design. Some experts in the field believe that your best bet is using medium-weight paper that has been run through a photocopier. That's to say that you need only make copies of a blank sheet of paper. The heat that sets the toner for your copies also dries the paper making it hold on to the folds that you intend to make. Now, others will suggest that magazine covers are best as they also open themselves up to an additional artistic medium.
Some people have the gift of engineering and design. Perhaps they will stick around with you for the first few tips to making an airplane, but perhaps they are chomping at the bit right now and have stopped reading altogether.
A basic paper airplane is easily put together, and with a couple of additional folds, you can make it fly the way you want it to in a perfect world. There is no right way, but let's start easy and see what you can do from there.
Most people wouldn't simply step into a plane that looked like the Millenium Falcon. For those who have watched the Star Wars movies we know that it's an able-bodied spaceship that made the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, but it certainly wasn't much to look at from the outside. Start with an 8.5" X 11" piece of paper and fold it in half vertically. This is your first fold and one that should be similar to the rest. That means a proper fold, where you really use some elbow grease to make the fold and return it to its original shape albeit with a strong fold down the middle.
Wherever the nose goes the plane is sure to follow. So, if your plane's nose points upwards, it's going to burn speed for altitude. In the event of a down-turned nose, the same plane will also follow the nose toward the ground. This might be ideal if you're throwing it from the third-deck of a baseball stadium but not for long distance flights. So, take either side of the top of your page and fold (strongly) to the center line which will form two opposite right triangles in the top third of your page.
Flight, whether for your piece of paper or to make your connecting flight, requires wings. Outside of something that is simply launched rather than flies, all great fixed-wing flight requires wings. In order to make this happen, once again fold to the center line that we have been using in the above steps. Left or right side first, makes no difference, but a solid fold will help in to strengthen your plane's body.
Presently you have a pair of skinny (almost) scalene triangles paired up and pointing to the nose. It doesn't look like much, but you're nearly done. It's paper so now need to call in quality assurance. If flight escapes you on your first attempt, you can look to repair it or recognize what you did wrong and attend to it. Now, fold the triangles down to the surface you are working on right now. And give a hard fold to the side where all the folds come together.
It is, however, a plane. It's simply an upside down plane. You need only turn it over and add a little force to each of your earlier folds to ensure your plane's structural integrity. Does that mean it's going to fly straight? We can't guarantee that, but at least the anticipation is now setting in for its first flight trial.
If you've followed the simple tips here to this point, you have likely constructed a plane that will fly as you expect it to when launched. That's not always the case, but if the bulk of these instructions were followed, you're good to go. If, however, you would like to add some distance, feel free to turn it over again and once again fold the wings in half toward the center line which will slim down your plane while making it race to its destination.
If you find yourself watching Top Gun anytime soon, you'll notice that the planes look a lot sleeker than your recent creation and a number of the planes throughout the length of the film includes stabilizers such as fins. Fold your wings downward and then upwards and now your creation does as well. If running parallel to the plane's body, you should see your plane's flight remain considerably more true to itself. Other modifications will also make sense and are certainly worth the effort.
You've just made a paper airplane. But many of you will become bored with the 1st-grade design. Change the paper, make your own folds. Perhaps you stumbled across some incredible origami in your life and remarked on how sophisticated yet straightforward a number of the creations were. Remember that you have all the materials you need, an understanding of flight and a piece of paper. Every magical piece of origami was made by one person first. The sky is the limit if you have enough paper.