The World Record Paper Airplane Bookby Jeff Lammers, Ken Blackburn
It’s the classic, world’s bestselling paper airplane book, grounded in the aerodynamics of paper and abounding with fun. The World Record Paper Airplane Book raises paper airplane making to a unique, unexpected art. This new edition boasts four brand-new models: Stiletto, Spitfire, Galactica, and Sting Ray. Added/i>/i>/i>/i>/i>… See more details below
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It’s the classic, world’s bestselling paper airplane book, grounded in the aerodynamics of paper and abounding with fun. The World Record Paper Airplane Book raises paper airplane making to a unique, unexpected art. This new edition boasts four brand-new models: Stiletto, Spitfire, Galactica, and Sting Ray. Added to its hangar of proven fliers—including Valkyrie, Hammerhead, Vortex, Condor, Pterodactyl, and, of course, the famous World Record Paper Airplane—that makes twenty airworthy designs. Each is swathed in all-new, attention-grabbing graphics and is ready to tear out, fold, and fly. There are at least five models for each design and all-important instructions for how to adjust and throw each plane for best flight.
But the planes are just the beginning. The book features tons of cool information on aerodynamics, competitions, and designing your own high-performing models. Readers will learn why paper airplanes fly (and why they crash), the history of Ken Blackburn’s world record, and how to organize and win contests. Also included is a flight log and pull-out runway for practicing accuracy.
- Workman Publishing Company, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Revised Edition
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 8.63(w) x 10.75(h) x 0.56(d)
Read an Excerpt
History of the World Record Paper Airplane
WHEN I WAS ABOUT EIGHT years old, I made one of my frequent trips to the aviation section of the library in Kernersville, North Carolina, and checked out a book that included instructions for a simple square paper airplane. I found that it flew better than the paper darts I was used to making. Thrown straight up, it reached much higher altitudes.
To the dismay of my teachers, I folded many of these planes, experimenting with changes to the original design. (One of the beauties of paper airplanes is that they are perfectly suited to trial and error testing. If one doesn’t work, it’s cheap and easy to start over.) One of my designs would level off at the peak of its climb and then start a slow downward glide. Sometimes, with the help of rising air currents, I achieved flights lasting nearly a minute and covering about 1,000 feet.
In 1977, I received a Guinness Book of World Records as a gift. Naturally the first thing I turned to was the aviation section. The paper airplane “time aloft” record was 15 seconds, set by William Pryor in 1975. It dawned on me that my planes (without help from the wind) were flying at close to world record times. On my next outing, I timed the best flights. They weren’t quite long enough to break the record, but with a little work I thought I could do it.
With this goal in mind, I refined my plane designs and worked on my throw. Many people are surprised to learn that I consider the throw to be almost as important as the plane itself. The faster the throw, the higher the airplane goes and, therefore, the longer the flight.
In 1979, when I was a junior in high school, I made an official attempt at the world record. The record was described in the Guinness Book as time “over level ground,” so I chose the school’s baseball field as my staging ground. One afternoon, with my teachers as timers and a reporter on hand from the Winston- Salem Journal, I let my favorite square plane fly.With the help of the wind, I made a flight of 24.9 seconds, and was sure I had flown right into the pages of history.
Unfortunately, the letter I received back from Guinness Superlatives, Ltd., wasn’t quite what I had hoped for.They informed me that the flight had to be performed indoors.
The next year, I worked part-time at Reynolds Coliseum in Winston-Salem, parking cars and moving equipment. In my time off, I had access to the largest indoor paper airplane practice arena I would ever need. My best flights yielded times of over 17 seconds, and I knew the record was mine for the taking, but I got sidetracked by college applications.
A Second Attempt
August of 1981 was the beginning of four years of aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University. I lived on the sixth then the eighth floor, perfect airplane launching pads (even though throwing objects from dorm windows was strictly prohibited). I made planes from every paper product available— from pizza boxes to computer punch cards—in many bizarre shapes, and soon infected the dorm with plane-flying fever.
Still, it wasn’t until my junior year that my friends began encouraging me to make another stab at the world record, and I finally decided to give it a try. I practiced several times at the school coliseum, keeping the best plane from my sessions, nicknamed “Old Bossy,” for the record attempt. Old Bossy was regularly achieving times over 17 seconds, well above the 15-second record.
A friend arranged for a reporter from the school newspaper to meet us at the coliseum. I made a few warm-up throws, and then reached for Old Bossy.With a mighty heave, I sent the plane hurtling into the upper reaches of the coliseum . . . and directly into a cluster of speakers near the ceiling. I was devastated. My best plane, Old Bossy, gone forever.
My roommate handed me a piece of ordinary copier paper and I quickly made another airplane. My second throw with the new plane was the best of the afternoon at 16.89 seconds. It beat the old record, but I knew I could have done better with Old Bossy. I sent Guinness the newspaper article, signatures of the witnesses, and Old Bossy’s replacement. This time Guinness responded with the letter I’d been waiting for.
After graduation, I went to work for an aerospace company— McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis, Missouri. In the summer of 1987, I was finishing a job on the F-18 Hornet, when I got an unexpected call from California. A television production company was putting together a series featuring people attempting to break world records.Would I be interested in trying to reset my record? I didn’t have to think long before replying with a definite yes. The filming was only a few weeks away and I usually needed at least a month to get my throwing arm in shape, so I started practicing immediately.
With my best practice airplanes packed in an old shoe box, I set out on my allexpense- paid extravaganza to Milwaukee. It turned out that Tony Feltch, the distance record holder for paper airplanes, was also there, trying to beat his record, and that we’d be making our attempts in the Milwaukee Convention Center.
Tony went first and, after only a few throws, broke his old record, achieving a distance of nearly 200 feet. Additional filming and interviews with Tony dragged on for hours, leaving me on the sidelines, sweating bullets.
Finally, it was my turn. I picked out my best plane from practice, and got the nod from the producer that the cameras were rolling. I heaved the airplane upward, and watched it float down. The official called out a time of 15.02 seconds. I concentrated harder on my second throw, but was again rewarded with a time of only 15.47 seconds. Suddenly it struck me that I might not be able to reset the record. Even in good condition, my arm lasts for only a couple of world record throws in any one day.
I made my third throw with everything I had. (I estimate that these throws leave my hand at a speed close to 60 miles an hour.) The launch seemed better, but the stopwatch would be the final judge.
As the plane came to a smooth silent landing on the floor, the official yelled out, “17.20 seconds!”Yes, a new world record! I made two more throws, but neither beat the record.
For a little while after my segment aired I felt like a celebrity. Friends and relatives called me, and kids in my neighborhood wanted me to autograph paper airplanes. But the excitement soon died down, and I went back to my normal life. Still, I continued modifying and flying my paper airplanes. In 1990, I fine-tuned my planes, built up my arm, and achieved several 20-second flights (which, of course, no one was around to see, much less officially record).
In 1994, I received another surprise call from a TV program; this time it was from a British show called Record Breakers. They wanted to know if I’d be willing to reset the world record again in a month in New York City. I enthusiastically agreed and immediately started working out in preparation. I was fortunate enough to find a trainer who was also the pitcher for a college baseball team and could help me strengthen my 30-year-old arm.
February 17 found me standing next to an enormous DC-10 in American Airlines Hangar Number 10 at JFK Airport, the chosen place for the attempt. I walked up to the plane and looked in awe at the 200-foot-long, 100-million-dollar backdrop for my 5-inch-long folded piece of paper. I had an enthusiastic crowd of onlookers consisting of the hangar’s maintenance crew and other personnel, all waiting to see the world record broken.
The cameras began to roll. I felt confident, but more nervous than I’d expected. My first throw bombed as a result of a poor launch. During my second throw, I concentrated on good form, giving it everything I had to offer. The launch felt a lot better.The plane started a slow turn to the left, narrowly avoiding a collision with the DC-10’s tail. I could tell it was a good flight, but only the timer would know exactly how good.
When he called out 18.8 seconds, everyone began to clap. I had forgotten the thrill of setting a record, and was running on adrenaline for hours afterward.
In 1996 the BBC invited me to try to reset my record, this time on live TV in London with 20 other teams competing. I won the contest with a flight time of 17.3 seconds, but unbeknownst to me, after the event two of the other contestants, Chris Edge and Andy Currey, continued working on their planes and set a new record of 20.9 seconds on July 28, 1996. The record did not appear in the Guinness Book until the 1998 edition.That January, I glanced through a freshly printed copy and discovered to my horror that I had been displaced. I had to get my record back.
I knew it would take at least six months of daily preparation to have a chance of resetting the record. My plan was to construct and test between five and ten planes a week. Initially, I tried radical changes to my design, progressively narrowing in on the best paper airplane design for a record attempt. I also started working with a professional athletic trainer, Dorri Buckholtz, focusing on strengthening my arm. She was extremely helpful, giving me detailed instructions for exercises designed to improve my throwing speed.
Despite my new designs, I had the most luck with the original model I’d invented as a kid (the one that’s included in this book). But I did find a few ways to make the plane fly better and more consistently. First, it’s important to keep the folds as flat as possible, which I did by pressing each fold with the side of a pen as I constructed the plane. Second, I experimented with making the folds both a little wider and a little narrower until I found just the right width. Third, I added crease marks on the wings which, like the dimples on a golf ball, reduced drag.
I started by practicing indoors in order to get consistent flying times. My primary flying site was a large assembly area at Boeing—where I’d also practiced for my 1994 and 1996 records—but I quickly ran into problems. It was being used for the final assembly of the navy’s newest fighter, the F/A-18E/F, which meant there wasn’t enough space, and the 60-foot ceilings were also proving to be too low. My best flights often hit the ceiling, and I lost some of my best planes forever when they lodged on top of beams or ventilation ducts. So I began practicing outside, but weather and air currents made it difficult to determine the exact flight performance of each plane. I knew my best planes were flying just over 20 seconds, but by how much?
Finding a facility for attempting the record was another challenge. Through the help of a family friend, I eventually secured the Georgia Dome (home of the Atlanta Falcons), and a date of October 8th, 1998, was set. Not only did I have a facility of my dreams, but the staff also agreed to give me an extra day in the dome to practice before I attempted the record!
Guinness requires media coverage, videotape, and photographs, as well as the record corroborated by two designated officials known as “Scrutineers.” Organizing all this at a location 500 miles from home was quite a challenge, but with the help of my sister, Jackie Tyson, and the publisher of this book, everything came together—now all I had to do was go ahead and set the record!
Wednesday, October 7th, was my practice day.Words can’t describe how overwhelming it was to have one of the largest rooms in the world silent and still, just for me! But there was one problem. It was raining, and with the dome’s ventilation turned off, the humidity had filtered indoors as well. It wasn’t a complete showstopper, but it was affecting my planes. After an hour of testing, only two planes had flown beyond the existing record, and both by less than a second! By the end of the day, I was somewhat satisfied I could break the record, but only if the humidity didn’t increase further.
Thursday, October 8th, started out cloudy and very humid. I grabbed my Rubbermaid containers (Rubbermaid makes a great waterproof, crushproof paper airplane hangar) and headed down to the Georgia Dome.
As I approached the dome, the clouds appeared to be lifting, so I hoped the humidity wouldn’t be a problem.When I walked indoors, both CNN and the local news crews were there to greet me. I made some practice throws to warm up my arm and to allow the media some close-up views of my launch. While I waited for everyone else to arrive, I met the Scrutineers, went over the rules, and showed them my planes. Then it was show time.
The Final Attempt
The rules allow just ten official throws, so first I took out my best plane from the day before and fine-tuned it until it flew just right and the practice times exceeded 20 seconds. I made sure the Scrutineers were ready, and I took the field for my first official flight. I gave it my best throw— it flew erratically, but still it looked good. I waited nervously for the official time from the Scrutineers. 21.3 seconds—a new record! What a relief. Nonetheless I decided I would use all my available throws to make sure to get the best time possible. The second throw went straight up—and straight down. After a small adjustment, another good flight, 23.1 seconds! Throw number four was another dud, but number five had a great launch and was 24.2 seconds! Just think, only five minutes earlier I thought I might not be able to beat the record! Throw number six was a dud, and throws seven and eight were both a little short, and throw nine was another dud. This was my last throw— I gave it all I had. This time it was a great throw, and it had a great transition to slow flight. When it landed I knew it was a long flight, but longer than 24.2 seconds? I heard the time as I walked over to retrieve my plane: 27.6 seconds! YES! Better than I had ever hoped or dreamed. With luck, help, and hard work, the summit had been reached!
I submitted the necessary materials to Guinness, and I received notification from them on April 30th, 1999, that my record had become official. I may now be retired from setting records—but who knows what the future might hold.
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Meet the Author
Ken Blackburn is an aerospace engineer and four time Guinness World Record holder for paper airplane time aloft (last record 27.60 seconds). He works for the Air Force at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, performing research in aerodynamics.
Jeff Lammers is an engineer and entrepreneur based in Florida. He flies small planes in his spare time.
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