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Paper Airplanes

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Paper airplanes are one of the simplest forms of aerodynamic engineering. Basic planes need only a sheet of paper and a few folds. Sophisticated versions can involve heavy paper and clips that add weight and dimension. So start folding and get ready to watch your creased-creature soar!

It's hard to say exactly how many people are interested in paper planes. But it's a safe estimate that many people have attempted to make and fly at least one plane in their lives.

People of all ages enjoy turning a piece of paper into a creation that takes flight. Michael O'Reilly is an American who is currently living in Costa Rica. He maintains a website devoted to paper planes, with the instructions for what he says is the best paper airplane in the world.

O'Reilly has been amazed at the number of visitors to his site. "When I posted the paper airplane instructions on the Internet, I did not expect the reaction that these pages would cause. We are currently receiving around 12,000 visits per month from all over the world."

O'Reilly says you need certain conditions to fly a paper plane. "I would consider ideal conditions to be a very slight breeze in an open area away from trees and obstructions. A hot asphalt road causes an updraft that helps keep the plane aloft, but this could be dangerous if there is traffic."

If you are just starting out in this hobby, it is important not to lose your patience. Depending on how difficult the folding is, people can become frustrated. A wadded up ball of paper has a different flight path than a properly folded model! Sometimes, two people will make a better plane because one may overlook something that the other doesn't.

The most important piece of advice from the experts is have fun!

If making paper planes in your spare time just isn't enough, think about these related careers:

Hobby store owner: Share your enthusiasm with others!

Pilot: Fly the friendly skies for a commercial company or for yourself.

Engineer: Plan and design all kinds of things.

Getting Started

Folding a paper plane is a form of origami. A piece of paper is transformed into a recognizable shape or object. On the Internet, in books and on paper plane computer software, you will find patterns to follow with all the steps outlined.

Having good hand-eye coordination can sometimes make the folding a bit more accurate. There are different models to choose from too: the whizzer, the floater, the pyroplane, the kiter and the flash are a few of the types to be found.

For a basic model, all that you require is an 8.5-by-11-inch sheet of paper. Some optional items include cellophane tape, crayons, markers, paint, cardboard, scissors, thread spools and cardboard rolls from bathroom tissue or paper towels.

As you can see, you will find most of the materials around your home or school. This is an inexpensive hobby that will allow you to be as creative as you want to be.

Experimenting with different materials and patterns will have different results. The One North Pole website suggests making a whole fleet of planes, with a variety of decorations, taping them into place so they don't unfold and then making a hangar or an aircraft carrier out of a box. By doing this, you will have an original toy that no one else will ever be able to copy.

One supreme paper plane enthusiast is Ken Blackburn, an engineer for McDonnell Douglas's F-18.

When he started working for the company, he held the world record for the longest flight, but wasn't sure if he should let his co-workers know. He thought that paper planes might not be seen as an adult hobby. But when it did come out, he found that a lot of his co-workers had an interest in flying as well.

His record-breaking plane was more squarish than what you might think a plane would be like. According to Blackburn, the shape and design of the plane are important, but so is the toss. He estimates that his throw must exceed 50 miles per hour. And he would know -- his longest flight was 18.8 seconds. See if you can top that!

For those people who enjoy paper planes and want a new challenge, model planes are sometimes the next step. This hobby is more expensive, with estimates of start-up costs going from $300 to $500. There are associations and clubs that will train people to fly paper planes - they will inform pilots of restrictions to do with height and airspace.


Academy of Model Aeronautics
Muncie , IN   47302


Super Flyers,
by  Neil Francis
The World's Greatest Paper Airplanes,
by  Peter Murray
30 More Planes for the Paper Pilot,
by  Peter Vollheim


Paper Airplanes: Quick and Simple
A list of instructions

Build the Best Paper Airplane in the World
Michael O'Reilly's page

Paper Airplanes
With diagrams and directions

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