45-foot paper airplane flies

Marilyn writes, "A part of its Giant Paper Airplane Project to get kids psyched about aviation and engineering, the Pima Air & Space Museum launched what may be the largest paper airplane (45-ft-long, 800 lbs, with a 24-ft wingspan) from a helicopter at 2,700 feet over the Arizona desert. It flew (glided actually) about 7 to 10 seconds before crashing. >From the LA Times: ...The plane was constructed of layers of falcon board, which Vimmerstedt described as a type of corrugated cardboard, similar to a pizza box. The plane was designed and built in Lancaster by Art Thompson, who helped design the B-2 stealth bomber, but the design was based on a paper airplane folded by 12-year-old Tucson resident Arturo Valdenegro—winner of a paper airplane fly-off sponsored by the Pima Air & Space Museum in January. In a video interview with the museum on the day of the launch, Valdenegro said before the Great Paper Airplane Project he thought that he might pursue a career in engineering, but after meeting Thompson and seeing his plane realized in giant size, he now knows he’s going to be an engineer when he grows up..."

45-foot paper airplane glides over Arizona desert (Thanks, Marilyn Terrell!)


  1. Sweet. It looks like it was going to burn in pretty well. Too bad that they couldn’t have made it get more lift. Maybe it would have had a chance with a bit more horizontal speed at launch.

  2. A seven second flight???

    A bag of potatoes would’ve glided longer than that…

    And they call that “Mission Accomplished”? 
    I guess they had a pretty low success threshold.

    1. According to the blurb it was dropped, “…from a helicopter at 2,700 feet over the Arizona desert. It flew (glided actually) about 7 to 10 seconds before crashing.”

      So it fell 2700 feet in 10 seconds. Isn’t that like 200 miles an hour?

      The last thing heard from the pilot was, “Put your head between your legs, folks, it’s gonna be a rough [unintelligible screaming]…”

    2.  Yeah, something sounds a bit off.  I estimate about 14 seconds  for your imaginary potatoes to drop 2700 feet.

  3. As a middle-school teacher I’m against this project. It’s all fun and games until it hits someone in the eye…

  4. A 16000 feet per minute sink rate doesn’t sound much like gliding to me.

    Besides, a lawn dart with no air resistance would take about 13 seconds to fall 2700 feet. Somebody other than BB is feeding us bad information.

    1. Haha yeah, in fact they show about 9 seconds of the flight from release in what appears to be real time, the plane is nowhere near the ground.  I guess at the last second it teleports all the way to the ground.

  5. well, *i* still think it was cool. wish there was a shot from the side, though, so we could see it in all its gliding/plummeting glory.

  6. Have I forgotten my high school physics? My quick calculation suggest that even if the object was as aerodynamic as a frozen turkey it should have had a free-fall duration of around 13 seconds from 2700 feet. Hidden rocket motor pushing it downward? Gravity amplifier buried in the desert?

  7. Why do they cut the video? I’ve seen this video dozens of times now and have yet to see the tragic end of this little flight. Okay, got it, it went unstable (which is a hoot considering it is nothing other than the classic “dart” paper airplane. True, folding it would have been a bitch, but they didn’t build it that way). I think they consider the 7 seconds to be the level flight; after that, seems to have been all down hill.

  8. From the article: “It was still able to glide at speeds of close to 100 mph for 7 to 10 seconds before stress on the tail caused it to hurdle [sic] to the ground.” 

    I think this means the plane glided horizontally for 7-10 seconds before dropping for an unspecified number of seconds, not that there is extra gravity in Arizona or that the Pima Air & fnord Space Museum is trying to trick you. 

  9. it’s really sad.
    I think a bit of dihedral would have helped a lot. it seemed it had no roll stability at all, and entered a deadly spin stall the very moment it was released.
    disclaimer: I’m a rc soaring amateur, and I really suck at it. I crashed every plane I built so far.

  10. If you read the contest rules, “Contestants each threw a plane they designed and folded
    themselves from one 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper. Farthest throw won.”
    No offense to the kid, and an 800 pound “paper” airplane certainly behaves differently than the real thing, but I would hope that the (next?) contest would change the wording to “Longest Flight Won.”

    A loop-de-loop plane would have been much more interesting (and maybe a longer flight if it held up to the stresses)!
    But I’m biased towards loop-de-loop paper airplanes, because I think that they’re “funner”!
    (Alternatively, bend the wingtips down for different effects, too!)

    something like this:

    (Also, another interesting thing that they could do is release a payload from the plane consisting of HUNDREDS OF PAPER AIRPLANES!) (Relax, they’re biodegradable.)

  11. You’ve all got it wrong. The plane flew for 7-10 seconds before crashing… into the helicoptor leading to 4 deaths.
    The little kid was suddenly excited and decided he was joining the army as an engineer to help create other instruments of death.

    Really this is a tragic tale that has no place in a Directory of Wonderful Things…

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