2021 A to Z: Letter P…Weird Holidays

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2021 A to Z: Letter P

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Paper Airplane Day (May 26)

The Paper Airplane was inducted in the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2017.

History and Paper Airplanes

Leonardo Da Vinci used parchment paper to design his models for manned aircraft.

Orville & Wilbur Wright experimented with paper planes to figure out their designs for how to get a powered flight, before their historic flight of December 17, 1903.

That practice of starting small with paper designs to refine aerodynamic ideas for larger aircraft would continue on, most notably in the 1930s when Jack Northrop, the co-founder of the Lockheed Corporation, used paper planes for tests that led to the development of many of the planes and bombers that helped the Allied powers win World War II.

Paper airplanes gained popularity in the United States during World War II when it was no longer possible to make toys out of plastic or metal. Some of the more popular planes at this time were designed by Wallis Rigby. He published his models as books or box sets, and his designs had a “tab and slot” construction. Rigby’s models are considered collector’s items today.

Cereal makers, too, felt the material-shortage pinch for premiums. Simplified paper-airplane models, similar to those of Rigby, were used as cereal premiums for General Mills in 1944. Mail in two box tops from Wheaties cereal and you received a pair of paper airplanes. General Mills gave away thousands of these models as part of a nation-wide contest. 

A pioneer in airplane flight (both paper and real), is Sir George Cayley, the man who identified the four primary aerodynamic forces of weight, lift, drag, and thrust. In 1804—just shy of a century before the Wright Brothers’ flight—Cayley built and flew the first successful human-controlled glider based on his observations that the propulsion of the plane should generate thrust and the shape of the wings should create lift, as opposed to the long-held belief that the propulsion force should generate both forward motion and lift. Cayley documented the tests of his ideas using small model gliders made of linen that he flung from the hillside near his home in Yorkshire, England.   

Paper Airplane World Records

As of 2012, Takuo Toda holds the world record for the longest time in the air (27.9 seconds).

On January 10, 2010, JOAA Instructor Fumihiro Uno set the record for Paper Aircraft Accuracy by throwing a paper airplane into a bucket 13 consecutive times over a period of two and a half minutes, from a distance of 9 feet, 10 inches (3 meters).

The Guinness Book of World Records says the farthest flight by a paper aircraft is 69.14 meters (226 feet 10 inches), achieved by Joe Ayoob and aircraft designer John M. Collins (both USA), at McClellan Air Force Base, in North Highlands, California, USA on 26 February 2012. The plane was constructed from a single sheet of uncut A4 paper. Joe Ayoob flew the aircraft designed by John M. Collins.

I can not talk paper airplanes and not bring up Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) of Welcome Back Kotter.

Let it Fly on May 26!

Have some fun, and check out the Paper Airplane Sortable Database where you can learn how to fold them, and print out the plans.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has provided an instruction manual on how to fold and cut two of their paper airplanes.

Check out Walt Disney’s 2012 Short Film “Paperman”, which won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film (2013).

Featured image: “P is for Perspective” from Digital Synopsis, created by UK based graphic designers Liam + Jord

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