A pair of Boeing engineers has broken the Guinness world record for the farthest flight by a paper aircraft.
Second- and third-generation Boeing employees Dillon Ruble and Garrett Jensen, from St Louis, both studied aerospace and mechanical engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. The design of their paper plane was inspired by hypersonic aerospace vehicles. They practiced for four months before making their attempt.
They both vividly remember attending Boeing Family Day events as children. ‘We would fold paper airplanes back then as a fun childhood activity,’ Ruble said. ‘Origami, or the art of folding paper, became a long-term passion.’
That passion ignited a dream that would become a record-breaking reality for the duo. ‘It was hard to believe,’ Ruble said. ‘It was one of those moments: Is this real?’
Along with the support of Nathan Erickson, the pair made history on 2 December 2022, in Crown Point, Indiana, by sending a paper aircraft for the farthest-ever flight. ‘We hope this record stands for quite a while – 290 feet (88 metres) is unreal,’ Jensen said. ‘That’s 14 to 15 feet (4.2–4.6 metres) over the farthest throw we ever did. It took a lot of planning and a lot of skill to beat the previous record.’
‘We tried to mimic the design of various hypersonic vehicles, which travel at speeds over Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound). So, we decided to call our plane Mach 5,’ Ruble said.
The team broke the previous record of 252 feet, seven inches (77 metres) achieved by a trio from Malaysia and South Korea in April 2022. Prior to that, the record had not been broken since 2012, when Joe Ayoob and paper airplane designer John M. Collins flew a paper airplane that reached a distance of 226 feet, ten inches (69 metres).
‘It’s a unique story to tell at this point, especially working for Boeing,’ Ruble said. ‘It’s a good tie in to aerospace and thinking along the lines of designing and creating prototypes.’
Ruble and Jensen studied origami and aerodynamics for months, putting in 400–500 hours creating different prototypes to try to design a plane that could fly higher and longer. ‘For the Guinness World Records, we ended up going with A4-sized paper and went up to the maximum for weight – 100 grams per square metre,’ Jensen said. ‘The heavier the paper, the greater the momentum when you go to throw it.’
It takes more 20 minutes to accurately fold the record-breaking paper airplane design. ‘Our design is a little different from your traditional fold in half, fold the two corners to the middle line down the middle. It’s pretty unique in that aspect. It’s definitely an unusual design,’ Ruble said.
‘We found the optimal angle is about 40 degrees off the ground. Once you’re aiming that high, you throw as hard as possible. That gives us our best distance,’ Jensen said. ‘It took simulations to figure that out. I didn’t think we could get useful data from a simulation on a paper airplane. Turns out, we could.’
Reflecting on their achievement, the pair offered some advice to fellow dreamers and doers. ‘Find a project you are passionate about. Find a source of inspiration within the aerospace field and learn as much as possible,’ Ruble said. ‘Embrace working hard at it, too. That’s what our team did. We put our heads down and tried to advance the typical paper airplane.’