Boeing engineers pulled inspiration from faster-than-sound aircraft in their quest to break through another barrier — the paper plane flight distance record.
The feat, set last December on an indoor football field in Crown Point, Indiana, on the edges of Chicagoland, was a long time coming. Dillon Ruble and Garrett Jensen, second and third-generation employees, grew up folding flyers, including at company family days.
“We would fold paper airplanes back then as a fun childhood activity,” Ruble said in a release. “Origami, or the art of folding paper, became a long-term passion.”
Their plane — dubbed the Mach 5 in honor of its hypersonic inspiration — soared 290 feet, shattering the previous record of 252’ 7” set by the Malaysian/South Korean team of Julian Chee, Kim Kyu Tae, and Shin Moo Joon in April 2022.
As one may expect, creating a record-breaking aircraft, whether paper plane or not, took considerable groundwork. Ruble and Jensen, with help from fellow engineer Nathaniel Erickson, spent months learning about aerodynamics and origami, creating multiple prototypes along the way.
“Full-scale and paper airplanes have vast differences in their complexity, but both operate on the same fundamental principles,” Ruble told CNN, and that includes trial and error.
“For instance, we would theorize about a fold we could change on our plane, fold it, throw it, and compare the distance to previous iterations to determine if the change was beneficial,” Ruble said.
The team thought focusing on speed, to cross the furthest distance in the shortest time, would be key to breaking the record — hence turning to hypersonic aircraft.
The plane is only part of the effort, however; it also needs to be thrown. By running simulations and analyzing slow-motion video, the engineers, like so many selfie-takers before them, found their angles.
“It was hard to believe. It was one of those moments: Is this real?”Dillon Ruble
“We found the optimal angle is about 40 degrees off the ground,” Jensen said in the statement. “Once you’re aiming that high, you throw as hard as possible. That gives us our best distance. 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.”
In Indiana, under the watchful eye of observers and professional surveyors, the team went through the over 20-minute process of folding the Mach 5, before Ruble sent it flying — with the third throw the charm.
“It was hard to believe,” Ruble said in the statement. “It was one of those moments: Is this real?”
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