The Perfect Paper Airplane

Whether you’re making the substitute teacher angry by throwing them around in class or participating in world championship tournaments, the paper airplane is full of possibilities. Most common paper plane designs require nothing more than a single sheet of paper—but sometimes, the practice of creating and building these small wonders of physics can demand a mix of complicated science, numerous materials, and strenuous effort. Let us fill you in on just what it took to craft the very best paper airplane.

John M. Collins, a television producer also known as “The Paper Airplane Guy,” is responsible for designing “Suzanne,” the current Guinness World Records holder for farthest flight by a paper aircraft.

Collins tinkered and tested his airplane design for three years before he and his official thrower, fellow American Joe Ayoob, notched a 226 feet 10 inch throw on February 26, 2012, in a hangar at McClellan Air Force Base in North Highlands, California. Their paper airplane beat the previous record—which stood for nine years—by over 19 feet, with the added handicap of having the officially sanctioned run-up distance cut from 30 feet to 10 feet. Though the two definitively shattered the record, Collins claims that he and Ayoob have unofficially thrown the design up to 240 feet in practice without a Guinness Book of World Records observer present.

The Dynamics of Flight

Common paper airplanes basically follow some of the same physics as their bigger, non-paper counterparts, and function based on four different aeronautical concepts that include lift, weight, drag, and thrust. The first two are the most obvious: lift describes the force generated by the plane going upward, while the weight is the earth’s gravitational pull that forces the plane downward.

An airplane’s drag is the backward resistant force obstructing an object from moving forward. A thinner design works best for paper airplanes because it fundamentally creates less material to drag the plane, while thicker designs will create more resistant force to impede the plane’s flight.

Lastly, the thrust is any force that propels the plane forward. On regular aircraft, the thrust is provided by propellers, which motor the plane on a sustained course; paper airplanes, of course, get their thrust from a throw. 

As with most flying machines, a paper airplane is most effective while maintaining a balance of these four concepts, and it is also usually effective in one of two basic designs: Triangular styles like the Suzanne are sturdy and outfitted for the best possible initial thrust, while rectangular shaped paper planes cover more area which allow for farther gliding distances. Nevertheless, the Suzanne is still considered a glider, and is the first such paper plane to hold the Guinness record for distance. “Previous distance marks were set by planes that were basically sticks with fins," Collins tells mental_floss. "Suzanne is a huge departure, and frankly, I don’t believe a ballistics dart will ever hold the record again. We may have put the mark out of reach for that kind of throw.”

Which is a good point, because all this shape business means nothing unless you have the proper thrust, which depends on the proper grip. To throw a paper plane far, firmly grip the paper towards the middle—but not too tight! If you throw it from your right hand and you find your plane veering right, Collins suggests moving your thumb down lower on the plane for your next throw (and vice versa for lefties). Your thumb movement easily changes the angle at which the plane is released, which makes for longer flights. Any erratic up and down movement from your plane can be also easily fixed by bending the rear flap of the paper where the wings meet the center of the plane upwards or downwards. After testing out your plane and adjusting these various factors, you should be ready for some extreme distance.

Building the Suzanne

If you want to give the Suzanne a shot, you definitely need to do some prep work. In The New World Champion Paper Airplane Book, Collins lists a bone folder, a snack clip for pressing the folds, scotch tape, a metric ruler, a pair of scissors, an X-Acto knife, a protractor, and A4-sized paper as the materials needed to make his record breaker. He even recommends Conqueror CX22 Diamond White stock as the best paper to make the plane—a process that involves 35 separate and intricate steps. Follow the video above to build it for yourself, and check out Collins's YouTube channel for tutorials on other paper airplanes.

Other Record Breakers

Paper airplanes are serious business, especially when it comes to breaking records. Some other official Guinness records for paper planes including Takuo Toda from Japan, whose toss on December 19, 2010, carries the record for the longest duration for a paper aircraft flight at 29.2 seconds. A recent record is the most paper aircraft made in five minutes by a team, which stands at 2401 planes folded by the Volkswagen Financial Service at Forum of Assago in Milan, Italy on December 13, 2013. The record for most paper aircraft launched simultaneously belongs to Realizar Impact Marketing and Portuguese soccer team FC Porto, whose fans launched a whopping 12,672 planes at the same time at Dragao Stadium in Porto, Portugal on November 2, 2007.

But the weirdest—and let’s face it, most braggable—paper plane record belongs to thrower Bipin Larkin and catcher Ashrita Furman (both Americans), who earned the record for most paper aircraft caught by mouth in one minute with 17 planes (!) on March 15, 2013, in New York City.   

The towering achievement, however, remains the farthest flight held by Collins and Ayoob. Their mix of tinkering and innovation with something as potentially simple as a paper airplane showed just how much a little science can go a long way. Collins hopes that kids who see his paper airplane come away with the sense that they can easily do science. “It doesn’t take computers, lab coats, microscopes and the like," he says. "It takes a hunger to know. Science is just the structured way we find stuff out. The science you can do with a simple sheet of paper is no less important than what can be done with an electron microscope."

Courtesy of Royal Treasure Chest
If You Love Antique Stores, This Subscription Box Is For You
Courtesy of Royal Treasure Chest
Courtesy of Royal Treasure Chest

Do you love wandering the aisles of antique malls, shopping at vintage clothing stores, and filling your home with knick-knacks and ephemera from the past? Then this subscription box is for you.

Royal Treasure Chest is a curated monthly subscription that sends a package full of vintage goodies to your door, thoughtfully hand-picked based on your personal taste. The subscription box offering is an extension of Royal Treasure, an online vintage shop with a presence on Etsy and eBay and run by wife-and-husband team Denise and Royal.

Prices start at $15 for a monthly single-item box. Also available is a $40 plan (three items) and a $60 plan (five items). Your box is highly customizable. First, you select your category (or categories) from the following options: Beautiful old hardcover books, curios and knick-knacks, jewelry, tie bars and cufflinks, paper ephemera (like postcards or photographs), and ladies' or gentlemen's accessories. Then you can go into detail about your style, favorite eras, and likes and dislikes. That means it's great for indecisive people who want to treat themselves to a box of nice things every month.

To find the vintage collectibles, Royal Treasure's Pittsburgh-based team travels to estate sales in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio. Every box comes with a note printed on parchment paper recounting where your new treasures were found and gives details about the families that once owned them. (The grandfather was a World War I fighter pilot! This family of dance instructors counted a young Gene Kelly among their pupils!) It reads like a letter from a friend and gives a homespun feel to the whole operation.

I subscribed to the $40 plan and loved the items I got. Every box also included a bonus postcard with a message written by someone from another era. I definitely took Royal Treasure up on the opportunity to go into detail about my taste. One of the things I wrote was that I like dogs, and I got a lot of dog-themed stuff that made me smile. In one month's box, I got a porcelain dog figurine as well as a trinket box and a decorative plate with country scenes on them. I liked the puppy statuette and thought the box and plate were nice enough, but then I looked closer and realized they each had a tiny dog cavorting around the landscape and I appreciated them even more. Now that's attention to detail.

vintage clothes
Courtesy of Royal Treasure Chest
Mathew Tucciarone
Candytopia, the Interactive Art Installation Made of Sweet Treats, Is Coming to New York City
Mathew Tucciarone
Mathew Tucciarone

A colorful exhibition is sharing some eye candy—and actual candy—with visitors. The sweet art pop-up, called Candytopia, is heading to New York City this summer following successful stints in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, Gothamist reports.

Candytopia feels a little like Willy Wonka’s chocolate room. More than a dozen rooms with psychedelic backdrops will be on view, as well as candy-inspired interpretations of famous artworks such as Mona Lisa and The Thinker. The installation is the brainchild of Jackie Sorkin, the star of TLC’s Candy Queen.

Many of the art installations are made from actual candy, but unlike Wonka’s lickable wallpaper, visitors will have to keep their hands and tongues to themselves. Instead, guests will be given samples of various sweet treats like gummies, chocolates, and “nostalgic favorites.”

Forbes named Candytopia one of the best pop-up museums to visit in 2018. New York City seems the perfect place for the exhibit, having formerly hosted other food-inspired pop-ups like the Museum of Pizza and the Museum of Ice Cream.

Candytopia will debut in New York City on August 15 at Penn Plaza at 145 West 32nd Street. Tickets must be purchased in advance, and they can be ordered on Candytopia’s website. Private events and birthday parties can also be arranged.

Keep scrolling to see some more installations from Candytopia.

A wing of the Candytopia exhibit
Mathew Tucciarone

An Egyptian-inspired statue made of candy
Mathew Tucciarone

A candy version of the Mona Lisa
Mathew Tucciarone

A shark statue
Mathew Tucciarone

[h/t Gothamist]


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