USC Paper Airplane Competition


Students whose schools are registered to attend the STEM Spotlight on Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering on October 12th are encouraged to build a paper airplane and compete it here at USC! Students from STEM Academy of Hollywood, STEM Academy of Boyle Heights, Manual Arts High School and Diamond Bar High School will be assigned to the competition arena between either 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM or 12:30 - 1:30 PM in field by the Epstein Family Plaza

What do you have to do to participate and win? Build, document, and share! When you are making your paper airplane, take pictures and show us how you came up with your design. After you have built it, post your airplane to Instagram and Twitter for the world to see using the hashtag #USCPaperAirplaneChallenge and tagging @USCViterbiSTEM on Twitter and @USCViterbiVAST on Instagram. Then come and fly with us here at USC! There will be five categories that you can compete in:

  • Longest time in air
  • Longest distance flown
  • Largest social media presence
  • Most creative design
  • Best engineering documentation

Click here to download competition guidelines as a pdf (these are also available, below)

OR click here to download competition guidelines as a presentation!

Deadline for submission is October 9th at 11:59 PM!

Guidelines for Documenting Your Paper Airplane Design and Registering for the Competition
(Register by 10/9 to compete on 10/12)


Engineering Process Documentation Expectations

The engineering process is very important when it comes to innovation and design. On the left, in figure 1, you can see the steps of the engineering process. When you design and build your paper airplane, use this flowchart and document each step. The following guide will show you what we expect in this part of the competition. Use pictures along the way and make sure to be detailed but concise.

Before submitting, we suggest that you have your teacher review it. Once you believe it is ready for submission, send it to with the subject line: “[USC Paper Airplane Documentation] <Your Name> from <Your School>”.

Documentation Template – submit this by October 9, 2017 to compete on 10/12

Participant’s Name
Name of School
Teacher Contact Information (Name, Email and Phone Number)
USC Paper Airplane Competition

Name of Your Paper Airplane


(Define the Problem and Specify Requirements)
Here you can write your intent behind building a paper airplane. Did you want it to be fast so it could fly the furthest distance? Did you want it to be able to fly slowly but for a long time? What were the aspects of the paper airplane flight that you wanted to control the most


(Do background research)
Here you can write what you know about paper airplanes and what you have researched about aerodynamics. Feel free to add in anything that you have learned in the process of this project.


(Brainstorm, Evaluate, and Choose Solution)
What are some unique components of your airplane? How does each part of the paper airplane contribute to your goal? Show pictures of your design process.

Testing and Redesign:

(Test Solutions and determine what steps you need to return to)
After testing your initial design, what were some problems you realized? What did you change and how did your paper airplane behave after these changes were made? You will likely redesign several times before achieving your goal. Make sure to document all these redesigns. Show pictures of “prototypes” or “Marks” of your final product.

Estimated Results:

(Communicate Results)
What performance can we expect from your paper airplane? What are its recorded distances and flight times? Here you can show diagrams and pictures of your design and its testing. Write about what could be improved and what are the limitations.

Social Media Competition

The social media aspect of the competition will be based on activity on Twitter and Instagram. The competition will not solely be based upon likes/retweets; the creativity of the photo posted will have big influence over the final decision of the winner.

The photo posted should meet the following requirements:

  • The paper airplane you designed should be included in the photo
  • The hashtag #USCPaperAirplaneChallenge should be used both posts on Twitter and Instagram
  • Be sure to tag @USCViterbiVast in your Instagram post and @USCViterbiStem in your Twitter post.
  • Make sure your post is school appropriate

When you send your engineering process documentation to, include links to the posts you have made on Twitter and Instagram. If you do not attach the links, we will not be able to know which post is yours and combine your scores from both Twitter and Instagram.

Flight Competition Guidelines

On October 12th, you will fly your paper airplane and compete against other students for longest distance flown and longest flight time. Students will meet in the Vivian Hall Breezeway and fly their paper airplanes in the Epstein Family Plaza.On October 12th, you will fly your paper airplane and compete against other students for longest distance flown and longest flight time. Students will meet in the Vivian Hall Breezeway and fly their paper airplanes in the Epstein Family Plaza. The winner for the distance flown will be determined by how far the airplane is from the starting line rather than the starting position. On the left you can see two sample paths of a paper airplane. Even though the path on the right has the longest path, the path on the left has the longest distance from the starting line.  The distance and time flown will be measured and recorded, the student will do two trials and the averages of the two values will be recorded. The reason we are doing averages is because we are looking for consistency, as is needed in engineering.  The winner for the longest time flown will be determined by the time in air from when it is released from the student’s hand to when it touches the ground. Even if it skids on the ground after landing, the time will still be stopped when it touches the ground. The time will be measured by two volunteers using a stopwatch. Upon arrival to the competition, students will receive a slip similar to what is shown. They can only write their name and their school on this paper; if they try to fill in the other lines, they forfeit their right to win. They will line up and hold onto these slips until it is their turn to fly their paper airplanes. Once it is their turn, they will give the slip to the volunteer and then fly their airplane. The volunteer will write down their times and distances and give it to the scorekeeper. Once all the slips have been returned, the winners will be determined.


  • All students must be standing behind the starting line when flying their paper airplane
  • Students cannot use anything other than their arms to help the plane take off (no catapult or launcher may be built).
  • The student cannot touch the paper airplane until its distance has been measured.
  • Each student can only compete with one paper airplane in all competitions.
  • The paper airplane must be able to fit in an 8.5 x 11 x 5 inch box.
  • The paper airplane can only be made of paper and tape.
  • Students who do not submit the documentation by October 9th may only participate for longest distance and longest air time.

Published on September 15th, 2017

Last updated on April 22nd, 2020