Paper Airplanes – Projects of Passion

-by Justin Landis

For most of us, Aviation is more than just an industry, more than a job, more than aircraft flying overhead. Aviation is a way of life,paper airplane competition it’s in our blood and in our dreams. The most identifying mark of those who live and breathe aviation is that for those of us who live this passion, have had it since a young age. A passion for Aviation lasts a lifetime but can start with something as simple and yet complex as a paper airplane.

The Great Paper Airplane Project – Pima Air & Space Museum, Tuscon Arizona

What better way to spread the love of aviation and inspire a new generation of aviators than to hold an annual paper airplane competition. This weekend, February 8, 2014, Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson Arizona will host the third annual Great Paper Airplane Fly-off competition where 300 paper airplane pilots will challenge each other for distance covered. Pilots ages 6-14 can enter with a standard 8.5”x11” sheet of paper folded into whatever aircraft design these young minds devise and each young entrant and up to four family members receive free entrance into the museum. The museum, one of the world’s largest non-government funded Air and Space museums, hosts the event inside among the many aircraft exhibits to give its young entrants a fully immersive experience.

pima air and space museum

Photo courtesy of Pima Air & Space Museum

The inaugural fly-off was held on January 14 2012, hosted by paper airplane Guinness world record Ken Blackburn, and was inspired by museum leadership in their attempt to bring young people into the museum to introduce them to the wonder and magic of aviation. The vision of Count Ferdinand Von Galen, Chairman of the Pima Air & Space Museum is simple and noble, “The biggest thing I’m looking for is to bring the air museum and the history of air and space to a new generation.”

The first Great Paper Airplane Fly-off was held as part of a bigger project, a project to build the world’s largest paper airplane. The winner of the fly-off, a young Arturo Valdenegro, was awarded the role of honorary engineer to help aerospace engineer Art Thomson design and test the giant paper airplane. The airplane would be designed based on Arturo’s winning paper airplane and on March 21, 2012, Arturo’s Desert Eagle, a 45 foot, 800 pound giant paper airplane was hoisted to an altitude of 2700 ft. AGL (meant for 5000 ft. but released early due to wind) by a vintage Sikorsky S-58T helicopter and released to take flight. The aircraft was able to glide for approximately 10 seconds reaching speeds of nearly 100 mph before smacking into the desert floor. The remains are now an exhibit in the museum as a dedication to the ongoing project along with the Great Paper Airplane Fly-Off trophy that recognizes the winners of past with their names engraved and on permanent display. “The Great Paper Airplane Project was intended to get young people interested in careers in the aerospace industry, and it seems to have worked with Valdenegro, as he reportedly now plans on pursuing a career in engineering.”

From the world’s biggest paper airplane to the world’s most detailed paper airplane

Quite possibly the world’s most intricate, time consuming, and detailed paper airplane ever built has been created by Luca Iaconi-Stewart. Being called the world’s coolest paper airplane in Flying Magazine and the world’s most impressive paper airplane by CNN, Luca has spent the past five years constructing a 1:60 scale Boeing 777 out of manila folders. Luca states that the project grew out of his love for airplanes and after stumbling upon engineering drawings he had discovered of an Air India 777-300R, Luca began printing his “parts” on manila folders using Adobe Illustrator to design his components. “I spent a lot of time making drawing from pictures, then I got ahold of a maintenance manual for people who maintain airplanes. It contains plenty of detail, which is useful for specific parts, but you’re still having to draw everything from scratch.”

With approximately 400 manila folders used and 10,000 hours estimated to get to this point in the project, (the wings have yet to be built) the landing gear retracts, the business class seats recline, the doors open and close and the thrust reversers extend. He even devoted an entire summer just to the seats, twenty minutes for an economy seat, four to six hours for business class, and eight hours for first class. It’s truly an amazing work of art as it displays the focus and ingenuity of the human mind and how that passion for aviation can inspire a young man to create a labor of love with intense discipline and devotion. I suggest you take a look for yourself, Luca has documented some of his work by hosting time lapse videos on his YouTube channel. After watching his videos, discovering his techniques and seeing the airplane, maybe Boeing engineers will give this guy a call; he may not be formally trained, but natural skill in engineering miniature parts out of paper may be a special case for qualifications.

Paper airplanes… they’re simple, complex, inspiring, giant, and most importantly, to a young person or old, fun. A simple experience from a young age can spark that life-long dedication to a passion and a career in aviation and following that dream becomes increasingly rewarding. I speak from experience as I realized that spark at a young age, I built the model airplanes as a teenager, joined the U.S. Air Force upon graduation from high school where I maintained F-16s and then attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where I have since graduated and continue to pursue a rewarding career in Aviation. It worked for me and it can work for you; Aviation is a way of life that continues to fuel many of us, especially if you’re exploring a blog such as this. It needs continuous innovation and the ingenuity of young people around the country and the world and hopefully something as simple as yet complex as a paper airplane can inspire us all.

iPhone Controlled Paper Airplane – Another VERY Cool Paper Airplane Project


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