Paper plane world record in the sights of Cranfield University aerospace researcher

Yicheng has been studying javelin throwers' technique in preparation

A research fellow at Cranfield University is aiming to become a world record holder for paper plane flight when he competes at the final of the Red Bull Paper Wings competition this weekend.

32-year-old Dr Yicheng Sun – an Aerospace Vehicle Design research fellow – already holds the UK record for distance travelled by a paper plane with a 48-metre journey recorded – and now intends to fight it out with world competitors for the global title.

The Red Bull Paper Wings final takes place at their Salzburg base on 13 and 14 May.

Red Bull rules

The rules of the Red Bull competition are strict. Competitors can only construct planes out of one piece of A4 paper, which must not weigh more than 100 grams. The sheet can only be modified by folding – with no ripping, gluing, cutting, stapling or ballasting allowed.

Yicheng – who won the first paper plane event he entered as an undergraduate in China and has already beaten all his peers in Cranfield University’s own competition – is spending the next few days busily making tweaks to the design of his aircraft in preparation.

Design secrets

“I can’t share the exact design for obvious reasons,” said Yicheng. “But there are many things you can consider when thinking about how best to make a paper plane.

“For example, I ensure the folds on my plane are exactly symmetrical, and I also ensure the quality of the folds by using items to compress the paper further.

“I think because of my background in aerodynamics, I’m always thinking about how to modify the design – whether that be to make it more stable, or to stop the plane from spinning.

“A lot of it too depends on your technique, and how you fly it. For example, I am looking at the art of javelin throwing, and how best to adapt that when it comes to paper planes.”

Dr Yicheng Sun

Yicheng – who said it takes about 15 minutes to make his paper plane once he knows the specifics of the design – added: “I originally got into throwing paper planes competitively after my friends saw the Red Bull Paper Wings event advertised and said I should enter it. I thought why not.

“I’m really hopeful of fighting for the world record – my plane can now reach about 60 metres.”

Cranfield University – where Yicheng is based – is a world-leader in aerospace research. Not only does the university have its own airport and runway, but it boasts strong links with industry built up over the past 70 years.

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