2022 was nothing short of an incredible year in the world of paper airplanes. In April, the world record for paper airplane distance, which stood unbroken for ten years, was smashed. In May, Red Bull hosted the Global Finals for the largest paper airplane competition in the world (Red Bull Paper Wings with over 60,000 participants). And, on December 2, Dillon Ruble, supported by his teammates Garret Jensen and Nathan Erickson, stepped up to challenge the new world record less than a year after it had been established.
As he stood, preparing to make his attempt, Dillon twisted his body and pointed his left shoulder down range. After a moment of pause, he crouched athletically before hopping and planting his right foot firmly on the ground. In a smooth motion, he shifted his weight forward to his left foot while uncoiling his torso, flinging his arm overhead and exploding upward. His perfectly timed movements cascaded in a release of energy, sending the narrow plane into the air at 80 miles per hour. The result was astonishing, with the plane flying 289 feet and landing almost a football field away. With this throw, the world record was absolutely crushed and three new kings were crowned.
This accomplishment provides new fuel for discussion in an age old debate. Not only did Rubel, Jensen, and Erickson break the world record by 36 feet, but they did it using a dart!
You see, paper airplanes are generally divided into three categories. Darts have very narrow wings, gliders have much wider wings, and hybrids fall somewhere between the first two. For many years, paper airplane enthusiasts have wondered which class is best for distance, and the world record has served to support one side of the argument or the other.
In 2003, Stephen Krieger set a world record of 207 feet using a very narrow dart.
In 2012, John Collins and Joe Ayoob broke that world record with a throw of 226 feet. The plane they used was a glider. Following this achievement, Collins even went so far as to predict that the record would never be held by a dart again. Many agreed as their record stood for over a decade.
That record was finally broken by Chee Yie Jian, Shin Moo Joon, and Kim Kyu Tae in April 2022. Their throw of 252 feet was also accomplished using a glider, and, for most, this was the nail in the coffin. Two consecutive world records and more than ten years of glider dominance seemed to indicate that everything Collins claimed was correct.
But Dillon Rubel didn’t agree with that sentiment. He had thrown an exceptionally narrow dart at the global finals of Red Bull Paper Wings and saw great potential in the plane. After many months of refinement, the three-man team used a similar plane to break the world record. With their incredible accomplishment, they proved that darts are more than capable of competing with the best gliders in the world.
It’s clear that each format has its own advantages and disadvantages. Darts boast extremely low drag and strong wings. They can be launched at a very high velocity and maintain that speed well, but they don’t generate much (or any) lift. Gliders have weaker wings and more drag, but generate much more lift. A dart may hold the throne for now, but proponents of gliders will be slow to conclude that the contest is over. Perhaps a new glider could fly even farther than 289 feet. Perhaps not.
Now, more than ever, there is stiff competition for the paper airplane distance record. Rubel, Jensen, and Erickson can take great pride in their success, but for how long will their record stand? Will it be for a few months or for many years? And will the next record be held by a dart or a glider (or even a hybrid)? Let us know what you think in the comment section below!