Aviation enthusiasts joined a worldwide effort to deploy their best paper-airplane-folding techniques for a world record attempt that also helped celebrate the Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide Week and International Women’s Day March 8. Globally, the United Nations promoted a worldwide theme to step up gender parity and empowerment, and Google supported the effort with its doodles.
The paper airplane event brought attention to women in the aviation industry and spotlighted opportunities available to women of all ages. The details for the record-breaking attempt called for participants to build at least three symbolic pink paper airplanes each, and in as many time zones as possible from 12:00 to 12:15 p.m.
Men, women, and children around the world joined the awareness initiative, and other records may have been broken as well. An all-female crew aboard Air India’s Flight 173 made the 9,000-mile journey from Delhi to San Francisco, which Conde Nast Traveler noted as the longest flight ever solely operated by women.
The date corresponds with the anniversary of the world’s first female pilot license, acquired in 1910 by Baroness Raymonde de la Roche of France, according to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. American Harriet Quimby earned her own pilot certificate from the Aero Club of America the following year. The Michigan pilot and journalist was America’s first licensed aviatrix, and also became the first woman to fly across the English Channel. Quimby went on to use her aviation prowess and notoriety to help launch a new grape-flavored soft drink.
In Frederick, Maryland, 34 participants rapidly folded a ream of glossy pink paper into 397 sleek paper airplanes in the midst of metal airplanes in the AOPA National Aviation Community Center. The diverse crowd included males and females, student pilots, retired military pilots, and aviation enthusiasts working quickly to accomplish the precise folds without injuring themselves or their neighbors as elbows and hands churned feverishly.
Participants crowded around picnic tables in a hangar to make the deadline and then celebrated by launching their paper airplanes together. A stiff wind out of the northeast quickly grabbed the flying fleet and simultaneously turned the loose formation before it fluttered to the ground.
John Duffy, a student pilot who trains in a Cessna 172, made 10 airplanes during the record attempt, or about one per minute.
“It was a little bit slow at first but without too many paper cuts I was able to pick up some speed at the end,” Duffy said. His paper airplane was definitely nose heavy for its maiden flight, “so I compensated with a little bit more aileron for the next flight.” Duffy jokingly said that he thought he coaxed a little bit more speed out of the paper airplane than the Cessna he trains in.
Insurance specialist Charlene Reed said she and her son practiced for the event: “I trained with my son—he’s 12 years old and we make paper airplanes all the time. That helped quite a bit.”
Colleague Joyce Smith said her pace during the record-breaking attempt was remarkably similar to Duffy’s, starting out slow but gaining speed and precision as the folds and the seconds ticked by. “I did a little bit of training beforehand, mostly chocolate-loading, but no wind sprints, or anything like that,” she said.
The Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide called for participants to join together to break the paper airplane record. AOPA's chapter of the Ohio-based Women in Aviation International and others answered the call to attempt three different challenges at the same time—most people making a paper aircraft; most paper aircraft built simultaneously; and most paper aircraft built within 24 hours.
“We really wanted to get our chapter involved in the Pink Paper Plane Challenge because not only is it a great way to raise awareness about the amazing strides women have made in aviation, but it’s a chance to help set a world record. Who can turn that down?” said Kristen Bodnar, Women in Aviation—AOPA chapter president. “And besides, we’ve all thrown paper planes around the office at one point or another, but at least this time it’s for a good cause.”
Overseas, Britain’s leading drone training academy UAVAir said it joined the celebration to help raise awareness for females in the emerging field of unmanned aircraft operations. The organization said in a news release that it would “step up to its responsibilities as a national leader in drone training, making an active effort to level the gender playing field and help women earn their wings.”
Employees of Deloitte Southeast Asia, a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd., currently hold the 15-minute record with 3,067 paper airplanes, according to Guinness, which recognizes David Green for the highest paper airplane flight and Takuo Toda of Japan with his indoor record for flight aloft.
Results of the 2016 worldwide paper airplane record attempt in support of Women of Aviation Worldwide Week might not be known for days or even weeks as numbers continued to trickle in from around the world.