Look, Up in the Air ...

April 08, 1992 1 min read

Most students who spend time chucking paper airplanes at each other in classrooms probably would never think of trying to build the world’s largest such craft. But that’s exactly what some Virginia students had in mind when they created the largest flyable paper plane on record, the “White Pelican.’'

Now they’re asking the folks who publish the Guinness Book of World Records to make it official.

This bird of a different feather was the result of a program sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics to promote technology in schools.

During the months-long project, students from Bethel, Hampton, Kecoughtan, and Phoebus high schools in southeastern Virginia combined brainpower and elbow grease with A.I.A.A. members, including some very aerodynamically inclined former engineers of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

As part of their effort, the students were invited to the îáóá visitors’ center in Langley, Va., where they experimented with computer simulators and wind tunnels, and soared in gliders to better understand the principles involved in unassisted flight.

Armed only with paper, glue, and tape, students at each school created models whose best features were combined in the final product, a paper pelican with a wingspan of 30 feet, 6 inches, and weighing less than 8 pounds.

During last month’s maiden flight at the NASA hangar in Langley, the White Pelican set a new world record for paper-airplane flight: 114 feet, 9 inches. The previous record was 85.4 feet, set by students in Indiana.

The record-breaking bird now holds a roost of honor at the new Virginia Air and Space museum in Hampton.

“It was great seeing the students and engineers work as a team,’' says Ferdinand Grosveld, the A.I.A.A. project coordinator for the Hampton area. Next year, he says, students may attempt to design the world’s largest radio-controlled airplane. --S.K.G.

A version of this article appeared in the April 08, 1992 edition of Education Week as Look, Up in the Air ...