Though we can trace the history of paper aircraft back 2000 years to the Chinese and their kites, and into the 19th century with the French and their imaginary airships, the origin of the modern paper airplane is shrouded in mystery. A San Diego Reader article placed the birth somewhere in 1910. By 1915, most American kids were already tormenting teachers. And Jack Northrup used paper models to work on aerodynamics at Lockheed in the 1930s, but even that doesn’t do much to explain how such a ubiquitous object has continued to be so humble and ordinary while inspiring a recent upsurge of interest.
The database at Fold’n’Fly shows how much variety there is beyond the basic “dart” style, and each airplane comes with step-by-step folding instructions, a printable pattern page, and a helpful video.
You can choose by difficulty level, whether or not you will need scissors, or sort by distance, acrobatics, time aloft, or purely decorative.
One of the reasons for the renewed interest in paper airplanes is the use of CAD (computer aided design) in constructing prototypes, and that in itself is a response to the challenge set by various Guinness world records.
The current distance record is 226 feet, 10 inches, set in March 2012 by a former college quarterback Joe Ayoob. The plane was designed by television producer John Collins, who used Ayoob’s throwing arm strength to break the previous record holder by nearly 20 feet.
The longest time a paper airplane has been in the air is currently 27.6 seconds, set in 1998 by Ken Blackburn at the Georgia Dome. He was breaking his own record for the third time.
Lastly, the record for largest paper airplane is 40 ft 10 inches, designed by students from the Technology University of Delft in 1995.
So, now you know what you’re up against. If you think you can do better, dive into this website and get folding.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.