A Living History of The Humble Paper Airplane

A Living History of The Humble Paper Airplane

Shinji Suzuki met Takuo Toda in 1999 atop Mt. Yonami in the city of Jinseki-Kogen, located in the south of Jinseki-Kogen in Japan. Toda, the Japan Origami Airplane Association chairperson, was in the area to launch a vast paper plane from the tower he constructed on top of the mountain specifically for this purpose.

Toda has convinced the local city council to create the tower that is 85 feet tall, with 360-degree views of Mount Daisen, Mount Dogo, and the Hiba Mountains as an ode to paper plane enthusiasts. The first floor of the tower houses an exhibit of folded paper airplane models, and the top floor is open to become a launch pad. When Suzuki first met Toda, he was launching the almost-seven-foot-long paper plane–modeled after the space shuttle Discovery–off that very flight deck. “He told me that he would like to launch this paper plane from the space station,” says Suzuki, now an emeritus professor of aviation from the University of Tokyo. “Everybody laughed at him.”

Toda’s lofty idea inspired Suzuki to get involved. In 2008, the two unveiled a plan to launch paper planes to the International Space Station (ISS). Some critics suggested that these planes could explode upon their descent towards Earth, Suzuki says. He predicted, however, that with an outer coating that protects them and a carefully controlled flight path, they could be able to keep from burning when they return to the atmosphere of Earth. Another issue? Finding out where exactly planes will be able to land.

While Suzuki plotted the plane’s journey towards the ISS, Toda would chart another route, earning Guinness World Records for his paper plane designs. For a long time, he’s tried to beat the record of 30 seconds for the time he can fly paper airplanes. He’s even come close.

In the Japan Airlines hangar near Tokyo’s Haneda Airport in 2009, Toda flew a paper plane for 26.1 seconds. In addition, he holds the record for the longest time in the air, which he established in 2010 using a rectangular shape that hung at a height of 29.2 seconds. There are many other records to be broken, too. In April 2023, three aerospace engineers are currently holding the title of longest-distance throw of a paper plane. The dart-shaped plane flew 299.9 inches and 289 feet, surpassing records by nearly 40 feet.

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