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Paper Airplane Day is a thing, and itís terrific

We all love holidays, but we gripe about them too: Long drives through snowstorms. Over-commercialization. Weird sweaters. Diet-busting meals that take forever to prepare and clean up after. True, “the holidays” offer a great reason to gather for fun with family and friends—but most holidays don’t focus the fun nearly enough on something that really matters to Ahead of the Curve readers: PAPER. What if you could celebrate a holiday with none of the hassle, but ALL of the paper?
That’s National Paper Airplane Day.

Celebrated every year on May 26, National Paper Airplane Day may be “an unofficial observance” according to Wikipedia, but it’s been going strong for years. According to the website, “our mission is to encourage everyone young and old to put down their smartphones and iPads, get off the Internet, put down their Portal guns, and get outside for some primitive fun, tossing paper airplanes around with family and friends—even if for only a few hours one day of the year!”

The site states the philosophy: “A simple idea that has been culturally embraced for thousands of years, flying paper planes is an inexpensive, healthy, and stimulating form of entertainment.” Visitors to the site can also find photos of fliers in action, as well as quotes about the benefits of folding and flying paper airplanes (our favorite: “Warm sun and a beautiful sky. A paper airplane can help you more greatly appreciate both.”) Yet for true paper enthusiasts, unanswered questions remain. We decided to do a little digging.

Who First Made Paper Fly?
Most historians agree that paper first took to the air in China, more than 2000 years ago, when we know people began flying paper kites. (China is also widely acknowledged as the birthplace of paper itself, in approximately 100 BC.) Origami, or the art of intentionally folding paper for decoration or other purpose, has been practiced in Japan since at least the 1600s. Some sources say Leonardi DiVinci was the first to create flying models from paper (actually, parchment) in his early designs for his ornithopter, during the late 1400s.

Yet according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, “the modern paper airplane we know and love was designed by Jack Northrop, co-founder of the Lockheed aircraft corporation, in the early 1930s.” Northrop used paper to construct test models of wings and planes for larger production aircraft.

Today, paper airplanes hold a firm place on a list of traditional hand-made playthings that kids enjoy the world over. Being able to fold a paper plane is as necessary a schoolyard skill as making a snowball. Paper airplanes can be folded from any type or shape of paper, and designs range from simple to highly complex. In fact, the simple paper dart has become something of a symbol for paper’s versatility; it is also a key image in the “Letters to Dad” commercial central to the Paper and Packaging Council’s “How Life Unfolds” campaign.

For those who would like to explore different types of paper airplanes, the National Paper Airplane Day website includes a handy link to a range of paper airplane books available on Amazon.

What’s the World Record?
Sure, paper airplanes are cool—and they are a fun way to demonstrate paper’s versatility and utility—but no one really takes them seriously, right?

Ask Ken Blackburn, the current Guinness Book of World Records record holder for “time aloft for a paper airplane.” Blackburn is an aeronautical engineer who first set the record in 1983 with 16.89 seconds; he hit his current record of 27.6 seconds in October, 1998 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta—a site chosen because its large indoor space could accommodate the flight attempt with no worries about hitting a wall or ceiling. According to Blackburn’s website, he prepared for the attempt for months; the training included folding, flying, and gym workouts to increase his arm strength and throwing speed. Here is what Blackburn writes about his preparation for setting the record:

“The rules allow just 10 official throws, so first I took out my best plane from the day before to make practice throws and make the fine-tuning adjustments needed to get it to fly just right… At first the plane was flying poorly, but with more adjustments the practice times finally exceeded 20 seconds. I made sure the Scrutineers (impartial designated officials required by Guinness before granting record-holding status) were ready, and the press went back to the sideline. I stood alone at the center of the field, brain barely working, cameras rolling. I gave it my best throw—it flew fairly erratically, but I knew it was a good flight… 21.3 seconds—a new record!”

However, Blackburn wasn’t finished. He informed the officials that he planned to use all 10 throws allowed to see if he could best that time. Flights #2 and #5 both resulted in new records, but flights 6-9 were unspectacular. His final attempt netted him 27.6 seconds—“Better than I had ever hoped or dreamed,” he writes.

Another Guinness World Record—for "longest indoor distance flown by a paper airplane"—was set on February 26, 2012, by former college football quarterback Joe Ayoob, who threw a paper airplane that soared almost the entire length of a hangar at McLellan Air Force Base near Sacramento, CA, according to The final distance of the record-setting flight: 226 feet, 10 inches, shattering the previous world record of 207 feet, 4 inches, set by Stephen Kreiger in 2003.
But Ayoob didn’t design the plane he threw—that distinction belongs to “The Paper Airplane Guy” John M. Collins, who has written several books featuring his unique and effective folds. This video demonstrates how to fold one of Collins’ record-breaking paper airplanes.

How can People Join the Fun?
Papermakers (and those who support them) are always eager to celebrate the magic of paper, so we know that Ahead of the Curve readers will want to participate in the National Paper Airplane Day festivities. National Today offers its own list of “Why We Love Paper Airplanes,” as well as these tips for celebrating on Friday, May 26:

1. Design your own paper airplane
This is the easiest and most fun way to participate in National Paper Airplane Day. Channel your inner child and get crafty! You can use watercolors, markers, or glitter. What’s your favorite color? Your paper airplane represents you, fly high!

2. Organize a paper airplane contest
Grab some co-workers or friends and head outside. Utilize your social media to find interested contestants. Most contests offer two basic flight categories: distance and time in air, but you can add more categories to your contest. Don’t forget the prizes.

3. Teach a kid to make a paper airplane
You may not believe it, but paper airplanes are truly becoming a lost pastime. Celebrate paper airplanes and National Paper Airplane Day by teaching America’s youth the art and joy of making a paper airplane. It might be hard at first to pull your kids or nieces and nephews away from their computers, but once they do, you’ll all have a blast making planes together and flying them in the sunshine.


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