Friday, October 26, 2018

Paper Airplane Database has the Wright Stuff

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We’ve always had a fascination with things that fly. Sure, drones are the latest incarnation of that, but there have been RC planes, kites, and all sorts of flying toys and gizmos even before manned flight was possible. Maybe the first model flying machine you had was a paper airplane. There’s some debate, but it appears the Chinese and Japanese made paper airplanes 2,000 years ago. Now there’s a database of paper airplane designs, some familiar and some very cool-looking ones we just might have to try.

If you folded the usual planes in school, you’ll find those here. But you’ll also find exotic designs like the Sea Glider and the UFO. The database lets you select from planes that work better for distance, flight time, acrobatics, or decoration. You can also select the construction difficulty and if you need to make cuts in the paper or not. There are 40 designs in all at the moment. There are step-by-step instructions, printable folding instructions, and even YouTube videos showing how to build the planes.

In addition to ancient hackers in China and Japan, Leonardo Da Vinci was known to experiment with paper flying models, as did aviation pioneers like Charles Langley and Alberto Santos-Dumont. Even the Wright brothers used paper models in the wind tunnel. Jack Northrop and German warplane designers have all used paper to validate their designs, too.

Modern paper planes work better than the ones from our youth. The current world record is 27.9 seconds aloft and over 226 feet downrange (but not the same plane; those are two separate records). In 2011, 200 paper planes carrying data recorders were dropped from under a weather balloon at a height of 23 miles. Some traveled from their starting point over Germany to as far away as North American and Australia.

If the 40 designs in the database just make you want more, there’s a large set of links on Curlie. And there’s [Alex’s] site which is similar and has some unique designs. We’d love to see someone strap an engine on some of these. If you are too lazy to do your own folding, there’s this. If you want to send out lots of planes, you can always load them into a machine gun.

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