David Murdock discusses paper airplanes


Somewhere between all these books of mine – I don’t know where, but somewhere – there is a book about paper airplanes. I bought it when I was about 16 – sometime in my mid-teens – but I clearly remember buying it. I can even remember what it looks like; I just don’t remember exactly Where it is.

Something happened last week that reminded me of that. However, other “something” kept me from embarking on a full-blown “book hunt” to find it. This “something” was mentioned in an internet article I read – I’m not sure where the is both, but I saved it in one file – which mentioned balsa planes.

I haven’t seen anything like this in years!

However, it’s probably because I wasn’t Looking for for her. Once when I searched the internet for balsa wood airplanes, they were everywhere. And the ones I saw were exactly the same as the ones I grew up with, down to the last detail.

Most men my age have probably had one at some point. Fairly cheap and definitely loads of fun, these simple toys will provide hours of enjoyment. The simplest of them were gliders. Made from lightweight balsa wood, they weren’t the sturdiest of toys, but they were a great deal as long as they held up.

The more complicated versions had wire landing gear and a plastic propeller driven by a rubber band. I’ve been experimenting with this – trying to get them to take off on their own, something like that. I remember it was always best to wind up the rubber band propeller and hold it still with one hand and start it with the other – that’s how I got maximum flight time and distance with them. The thing is that flight time was measured in seconds and distance in feet.

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I later found model rockets at the Five and Dime store in Attalla, which I loved as a kid. This was a real step forward, but model rockets were much more expensive than balsa planes. However, they flew long enough and far enough that there was a real possibility that they would be damaged upon landing. And model rockets required a large field. Balsa wood airplanes could be enjoyed in the backyard or even indoors on rainy days.

But let’s go back a few years.

What got me into this fascination with flying toys were paper airplanes. They were perfect – they didn’t cost much at all and they rewarded creativity. After learning how to make paper airplanes, it didn’t take long for me to learn how to make the two basic types: slow gliders that could fly quite a distance, and fast arrows that didn’t fly too far… but didn’t go too far very quickly.

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All my friends loved them too and we shared notes on what we had learned and taught each other to make better paper airplanes. After a while, I became less concerned with making them fly farther and faster—the “technology” of paper airplanes only goes so far—and more with how they looked.

Using those beloved old encyclopedias we had, I looked up the various insignia of the world’s air forces and began adorning mine with rather shaky renditions. It didn’t take long before I had all the air forces in the world in my collection – well, all the air forces with decals on them World beech encyclopedia. One thing leads to another, and before long I had looked up historical camouflage patterns and decorated my paper planes accordingly. It wasn’t long before I was browsing air force books in the library. Again one thing leads to another.

Not long after, I discovered scale plastic models of historic airplanes. I loved these classic kits. If I hadn’t learned to build these kits with step-by-step instructions, I never would have been able to build model rockets later.

At some point I lost interest in paper airplanes, balsa wood gliders, plastic models and model rockets made from all three materials. But when I discovered the book about paper planes when I was about 16, I bought it. At first I was amazed that paper airplanes were a real hobby, but there are people who have remained true to this fascination long after I did. Nowadays they use computers to design paper planes to achieve the maximum flight time and distance. Computers can print designs on the paper, so the planes look very pretty when folded.

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So when I searched the internet for balsa airplanes, all the ‘new technology’ popped up in that old fascination of mine – I couldn’t believe it! One of the reasons I didn’t look for my decades-old book on paper airplanes is because I know how one thing leads to another.

And my “money” is a lot higher now than it was when I was 16. You all know the old saying, “The only difference between a man and a boy is the price of their toys.” I don’t really have time for a “new” hobby – no matter how “old” it is – and I really don’t need to break my competitive spirit right now heat up.

But if you all hear that I entered a paper airplane design competition, don’t be surprised.

David Murdock is an English teacher at Gadsden State Community College. He can be contacted at [email protected] The opinions expressed are his own.



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