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BLUE HILL, Maine — If coronavirus restrictions have you stuck inside homeschooling kids, Joe Brooks suggests doing what used to get all of us in trouble when we were in class – fly some paper airplanes.
The 62-year-old carpenter and former boat builder constructs paper aircraft in his spare time and says they’re great fun. They also improve manual dexterity and convey lessons on aerodynamics, and design and construction of intricate items – his son once made one airplane that took 12 pages of cardstock to assemble.
And boy, can they fly.
“All you really need is scissors and glue sticks and a little Elmer’s glue. One thing you need is card stock, but it is pretty available,” Brooks, of Blue Hill, said. “Another thing with them is that you can get outside and fly them and it is great fun flying them. I have way more fun than I should flying them.”
“The other thing that is cool is that they never fly the same way twice. They always do something different,” added Brooks, who works at Blue Hill Cabinet Shop. “You are always adjusting them to do what you want and finding out what makes an airplane go.”
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Designs for propeller-driven and jet aircraft popular today and in history are available on several websites. Boeing 747. The P-51. Sopwith Camel (Snoopy’s preferred fighter). The B-17. Cessnas of most every type. F-22. The F-4-U Corsair. “There are a gillion things out there about that and everybody gives their designs away,” Brooks said.
A Google search for “complex paper airplane designs” reveals more than 7 million results. Brooks’ favorite site: paperaircrafts.com. A YouTube purports to show the world record for farthest flight by a paper aircraft, 226 feet and 10 inches, achieved by Joe Ayoob, a former arena league quarterback, and aircraft designer John M. Collins at McClellan Air Force Base, in North Highlands, California, on Feb. 26, 2012.
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Self-described as ThePaperAirplaneGuy, Collins eschews complex designs involving glue and paper-cutting in favor of simple folds, but the blueprints for some of Brooks’ designs are complex. Brooks’ son, 18-year-old Tie Brooks, said the most intricate design he ever flew was a Boeing 777 that took 12 pages of card stock and a week’s work of six-hour days to assemble. Very popular among paper-plane aficionados in Japan, card stock is the Brooks’ preferred building material, as its thickness allows for great durability, weight and drag that makes throwing them much easier, and greater distance per toss, than regular paper.
“I learned a lot about airplanes from doing this,” Tie Brooks, a senior at George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill, said. “You can get a lot from working with your hands and learning how to measure. There are kids in a high school setting now who don’t know how to use a ruler. For me it was so simple.”
Building these kinds of paper airplanes “requires a lot of precision and accuracy,” added Tie Brooks, who was influenced enough by his father’s hobby that he is considering studying aircraft design in college. The younger Brooks plans to attend the University of Southern Maine next year and perhaps transfer elsewhere for the 2021-22 school year, he said.
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“You learn patience from building them,” Tie Brooks said. “My first models were so bad and so messy because I rushed. I just wanted to get it done.”
Less glue is always better, said Joe Brooks, who wrote a manual on paperplane design. His other tips include: Build them carefully and follow designs closely. Most beginners get excited at the idea of flying a handsome finished project and make them sloppily, with far too much glue. Define the center of gravity to each craft by balancing it on your fingers because that is probably the most important aspect of making them airworthy, Joe Brooks said.
And craft them with the idea of making them fly nose-down. Though it sounds counter-intuitive, this prevents aircraft stall. The natural lift provided by the wings will get and keep them airborne, Brooks said.
“One thing that’s nice with the cardstock things is that you can throw them as hard as you can, and they will take off. Try to do that with regular paper and they won’t fly. The paper crumples at that point,” Brooks said.
Understand, too, that by building paper airplanes, you’re following in the steps of those pioneers of flight, the Wright brothers, who began their aeronautical careers with gliders, Brooks said.
A former teacher at Wooden Boat School of Brooklin, Brooks used to love to bring a crate of paper airplanes or airplane building materials to students at the summer school, to help broaden their understanding of basic construction, he said. He has held classes on it for Hancock County public libraries and at arts festivals. Paper airplanes reinforce to Brooks a lesson he always tries to remember when crafting staircases or kitchen cabinets — beware designs that are overly complex.
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“Be willing to back up to make a design simpler, more elegant, easier to build,” Brooks said.
And most of all, Brooks said, building airplanes should be fun. Builders who survive the early frustrations have a hobby that lasts a lifetime. Remember, he said, that when a paper airplane crashes, it’s not the end of the world.
“Unlike crashes in real life, nobody gets hurt,” Brooks said.