History Of Paper Airplanes

history of paper airplanes basic image

The History Of Paper Airplanes

It is widely believed and accepted that the history of paper airplanes finds it roots in ancient China, where paper was used to create the first flying kites. We’ve all heard of Origami, the art of folding pieces of paper into works of art. Well, as it turns out, while the name Origami is indeed of Japanese origin, the art of folding paper into objects originated in China. At some point in history the Japanese perfected the craft and thus the name Origami stuck and many people simply assume it’s the Japanese who invented it.

More directly related to us, here at Paper Plane Mafia, is the discussion of Aerogami, the art of folding paper into flying paper airplanes. Like Origami, we can trace the history of paper airplanes back to China. But nothing those early inventors came up with could compare to the amazing monster planes that people are building these days. In fact, if you take a look at the Klutz Book of Paper Planes you’ll find some really amazing planes that you perhaps thought you couldn’t make yourself. Of course, that’s why we’re here, to help along your journey of learning how to make a paper airplane.

Back to the history. Because of the nature of paper airplanes (they aren’t exactly durable) and the absence of earlier writings, its difficult to say exactly when the first planes were introduced. And its safe to say that we don’t have any examples of those earliest planes. Some say Leonardo Da Vinci was the first to create what we know as modern pieces of flying paper, giving way to the belief that what the earliest Chinese were making had no “direct” bearing to paper airplanes since they didn’t know about nor could they have used the principles of loft and wind resistance. Its most likely true that the early Chinese didn’t construct planes in the way we think of them today; most likely they were more reminiscent of birds in design and used only the force of thrust from throwing to “fly” rather than also using the resistance of wind, though they did master kites so again, we’re speculating.

History of paper airplane - Sir George Cayley

Sir George Cayley’s Glider

According this article at Yale University on Paper Airplanes, Leanoard Da Vinci was the first to recognize that air offered resistance to motion, and it wasn’t until 100 years later that Galileo claimed that velocity and air resistance are relative and proportional. So you can see, it wasn’t until much later that we began to first look at the scientific and mathematical implications of flight. Others had a hand in this early discovery, men like Christian Huygens and Isaac Newton.

However, credited with the first break-through in heavier-than-air flight is Sir George Cayley, who identified the four aerodynamic forces of flight: weight, lift, drag, and thrust. In 1799 he is alleged to have developed the closest ancestor to what we know of today as paper airplanes. Pictured here is his design which clearly features wings, a fuselage and a cruciform tail, and also his depictions and writings indicate the use of a moveable rudder and elevators.

Tangible Link To The History Of Paper Airplanes As We Know Them

But where is the direct link to paper airplanes, you ask? That doesn’t come about until later, when in 1867. J. W. Butler and E. Edwards, two Englishmen, patented a swept, delta wing

history of paper airplanes - delta wing design

Butler and Edwards Delta Design 1867

airplane that bears remarkable resemblance to the basic dart paper airplanes we all know today.  Amazingly the pair envisioned the plane being fueled by a propellant, which would have been necessary for such a design (Delta winged) because the plan places most of the wing area in the rear where pressures have dropped considerably, affecting natural loft. Of course, as we know because of modern jet fighters, with propulsion systems (or thrust from throwing) the plane makes for a great flier.

More importantly, though, is how remarkable the resemblance is to the Darts you’ve probably built many times. In fact, a large majority of paper airplane designs give way to the swept wing look of their delta design. So with that we hereby give official Mafia credit to both Butler and Edwards for being the fathers of paper airplanes we build today. Purists may scoff and insist that we’re not being fair to the grandfathers of flight mentioned earlier, but they’re just a scorchamend’.

On our site we begin with basic planes but you’ll soon find that you’re learning some advanced folds, and even some tweaks to adjust and control the flight of your paper plane. We also have a page dedicated strictly to understanding the aerodynamics of paper plane flight and construction. As you dive into Paper Plane Mafia you’ll soon discover that quite possibly there’s considerably more to paper airplanes than you previously thought. We also pair our picture tutorials to our Paper Plane Mafia YouTube page to make learning even easier and more fun!

If you have your own ideas or suggestions about the history of paper airplanes, by all means drop us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you!

If you want even more about the history of paper airplanes or more designs and ideas, check out Amazon’s selection.

 Intro Image Copyright 2013 Paper Plane Mafia