Centre of mass location, flight modes, stability and dynamic modelling of gliders

Huilin Li, Tristan Goodwill, Z. Jane Wang, Leif Ristroph

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Falling paper flutters and tumbles through air, whereas a paper airplane glides smoothly if its leading edge is appropriately weighted. We investigate this transformation from ‘plain paper’ to ‘paper plane’ through experiments, aerodynamic modelling and free flight simulations of thin plates with differing centre of mass (CoM) locations. Periodic modes such as fluttering, tumbling and bounding give way to steady gliding and then downward diving as the CoM is increasingly displaced towards one edge. To explain these observations, we formulate a quasi-steady aerodynamic model whose force and torque coefficients are informed by experimental measurements. The dependencies on angle of attack reflect the transition from attached to separated flow and a dynamic centre of pressure, effects that prove critical to reproducing the observed motions of paper planes in air and plates in water. Because the model successfully accounts for unsteady and steady flight modes, it may be usefully applied to further problems involving actuated motions, feedback control and interactions with ambient flows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA6
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Apr 25 2022


  • flow-structure interactions
  • swimming/flying

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Applied Mathematics


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