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The most significant use of paper models in aircraft designs were by the Wright brothers between 1899 and 1903, the date of the first powered flight from Kill Devil Hills, by the Wright Flyer. The Wrights used a wind tunnel to gain knowledge of the forces which could be used to control an aircraft in flight. They built numerous paper models, and tested them within their wind tunnel. By observing the forces produced by flexing the heavy paper models within the wind tunnel, the Wrights determined that control through flight surfaces by warping would be most effective, and in action identical to the later hinged aileron and elevator surfaces used today. Theirpaper airplane paper models were very important in the process of moving on to progressively larger models, kites, gliders and ultimately on to the powered Flyer (in conjunction with the development of lightweight petrol engines). In this way, the paper model plane remains a very important key in the graduation from model to manned heavier-than-air flight.

With time, many other designers have improved and developed the paper model, while using it as a fundamentally useful tool in aircraft design. One of the earliest known applied (as in compound structures and many other aerodynamic refinements) modern paper plane was in 1909.

The construction of a paper airplane, by Ludwig Prandtl at the 1924 banquet of the International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, was dismissed as an artless exercise by Theodore von Kármán:[1] Prandtl was also somewhat impulsive. I recall that on one occasion at a rather dignified dinner meeting following a conference in Delft, Holland, my sister, who sat next to him at the table, asked him a question on the mechanics of flight. He started to explain; in the course of it he picked up a paper menu and fashioned a small model airplane, without thinking where he was. It landed on the shirtfront of the French Minister of Education, much to the embarrassment of my sister and others at the banquet.