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Mach 5 Paper Airplane

By Mychaela Kekeris

When you think Boeing, you think of giant airliners. You don’t think of paper airplanes.

But a pair of Boeing engineers have shattered the world record by flying their paper airplane nearly the length of a football field.

Dillon Ruble and Garrett Jensen grew up folding and flying paper airplanes, but never thought they would one day break world records.

Ruble and Jensen, along with the support of Nathan Erickson, made history on Dec. 2, 2022, in Crown Point, Indiana, for the farthest flight by a paper aircraft.

Nathan Erickson (from left), Dillon Ruble and Garrett Jensen made history on Dec. 2, 2022, in Crown Point, Indiana, for the farthest flight by a paper aircraft. (Photo by Dominic Alberico)

“It was hard to believe,” Ruble said. “It was one of those moments: Is this real?”

“We hope this record stands for quite a while — 290 feet is unreal,” Jensen said. “That’s 14 to 15 feet over the farthest throw we ever did. It took a lot of planning and a lot of skill to beat the previous record.”

They broke the previous record of 252 feet, 7 inches set 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, 10 inches.

Ruble and Jensen say the design for their paper airplane was inspired by hypersonic aerospace vehicles.

“We tried to mimic the design of various hypersonic vehicles, which travel at speeds over Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound),” Ruble said. “So, we decided to call our plane Mach 5.”

Ruble and Jensen studied origami and aerodynamics for months, putting in 400 to 500 hours of 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 (dimensions of 210 x 297 mm) and went up to the maximum for weight, 100 grams per square meter,” Jensen said. “The heavier the paper, the greater the momentum when you go to throw it.”

It takes more than 20 minutes to fold the record-breaking paper airplane design, they report.

Dillon (left) and Nathan fold world record paper airplanes with both witnesses overseeing. The witnesses were Mark Baumgardner (wearing red), and Glen Boren (wearing neon), lead surveyor. (Photo by Dominic Alberico)

“Our design is a little different from your traditional fold in half, fold the two corners to the middle line down the middle,” Ruble said. “It’s pretty unique in that aspect. It’s definitely an unusual design.”

On the day of the attempt, they achieved the record on the third throw.

“We found the optimal angle is about 40° 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.”

Nathan Erickson (background from left) and a spectator watch the flight as Dillon Ruble throws the world record paper airplane. (Photo by Dominic Alberico)

Their 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.”