Updated: Feb 10, 2019
Hello Pilots of the Internet, in this post we’ll be examining the differences between darts and gliders, the two main categories of paper airplanes, to examine their relative strengths and weaknesses. I cover the topic in the video, but I'll give you a nice summary below!
So let's begin by defining our two major categories for paper airplanes.
Dart paper airplanes tend to have narrow wings that are comprised of many layers. Because their wings are narrow and dense, they also tend to be pretty strong, which means you can throw a dart quite hard. For that reason, darts are often the favored designs in distance competitions. The competitors use extremely narrow models and throw them like javelins in parabolic arcs. Dart paper airplanes don’t generate a ton of lift — they’re just aerodynamic enough to fly far with a fast launch.
In general, Gliders have wider and larger wings than darts do. They fly gently and boast better glide ratios. However, the fact that they have wider wings, with more surface area than those of a dart, means that they’re often rather flexible. This means that if you throw a glider too hard, its wings may flex in such a way that the plane is unable to fly correctly, leading to a crash. So gliders usually fair best with a gentle, to medium-power launch.
That said, certain glider paper airplanes are folded so that their wings have strong leading edges, and they can be thrown much harder. These gliders are often used in competitions where competitors try to achieve the longest flight possible in terms of time-aloft. Because the wings are strong, the plane can be launched high into the sky before gently gliding back to earth.
I should emphasize that these classifications are not a perfect system. There’s no clear line that divides gliders from darts. In truth, it’s a spectrum, and there are planes that exist in the middle that are hard to classify. I call these planes hybrids. There are some planes that one person might consider a dart, that another would not.
So, I told you that darts are the best models for distance competitions. Well, I might have lied. In recent years, that assertion has really been challenged, and maybe outright proven to be false. In 2012 John Collins designed a glider that flew 226 feet when thrown by Joe Ayoob, smashing the previous world record, held by Stephen Kreiger. So, at the very least, there are some real questions to ask about whether darts are better for distance, or if gliders have permanently stolen the throne.
While we’re talking about categories for paper airplanes, there’s one more I should mention, and those are Stunt Planes. These planes are purpose-built to do some cool trick like do a back flip or spiral. The fact that a plane can be classified as a stunt plane doesn’t prohibit it from also being considered a dart or a glider. It’s just an additional category that a plane can fall into. One example of a stunt plane is Circuit Racer. If you throw it correctly, it will fly in a large circle back to you like a boomerang!
Stunt planes can be difficult to design, because they require one of two things: A happy accident, or a knowledge of the aerodynamics that go into performing any specific trick.
That’s all you need to know about the various categories paper airplanes. Get out there and get folding!