A huge paper airplane rivaling the size of the Wright Brothers' first flying machine made a possibly record-breaking flight this week.
The paper airplane dropped from a hovering helicopter about half a mile (0.8 kilometers) above the Arizona desert, and flew at a top speed of 98 mph (158 kph) as it glided down to Earth. Aeronautical engineers built the magnified childhood dream as a nod to Arturo Valdenegro — a 12-year-old Tucson, Ariz., resident whose paper plane design flew farthest during a competition held at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson in January.
But the paper behemoth that stretched 45 feet (14 meters) in length and 24 feet (7 meters) across its wings almost didn't fly on March 21. It buckled under its own weight of 800 pounds (363 kilograms) on the morning of its debut, which delayed the launch for hours while the team frantically reinforced the structure. As it finally lifted off the ground under the helicopter, the paper airplane began swaying heavily in the evening wind.
"Aaron, our helicopter pilot then gave the order to cut the plane loose from the cable when it began to pull the chopper itself in a strong gust," according to a Pima Air & Space Museum blog post. "But after it was released, for several shining moments, our huge, beautiful, silly, hubristic 45-foot paper airplane soared."
A stunt plane flown by five-time U.S. National Aerobatic Champion, Kirby Chambliss, shadowed the flight of the paper plane (named "Arturo's Desert Eagle"). The paper plane — made of paper-based falconboard used in recyclable signs — is expected to go on display at the Pima Air & Space Museum sometime in the spring.
"The arresting visual of the paper airplane in flight rekindled the childhood creativity in all of us," said Yvonne Morris, executive director of the Pima Air & Space Museum and Arizona Aerospace Foundation. "The museum is thrilled to conduct the first-ever Great Paper Airplane Launch, part of our larger effort to inspire America's youth and spark a passion for aviation and engineering in the next generation."
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