On a paper wing and a prayer
Two UND students qualify for regional competition in Red Bull’s paper airplane contest
One UND student competing in the Red Bull Paper Wings event on the UND campus last Sunday consulted the internet for a paper airplane design. Another student relied on the tried-and-true design he developed as a child.
When the contest at the Fritz Pollard Athletic Center was over, they both qualified to attend Red Bull’s national finals in Denver on April 10. The winners there will go on to the international competition in Salzberg, Austria, to participate in the world’s largest paper airplane competition sponsored by the energy drink company.
Garrett Peterson, a sophomore aviation major from Burnsville, Minn., won the distance competition with a top throw of 20.73 meters (68 feet). Connor Felchle, a junior aviation safety and operations major from Soldotna, Alaska, was the airtime winner with a top throw of 6.39 seconds.
Asked what attracted him to the competition, Peterson replied, “What isn’t attractive about it? You get to make paper airplanes and throw them. It’s a dream come true, and you get free Red Bull.”
All contestants were limited to using letter-sized paper supplied by Red Bull. The paper could only be folded, not cut or torn.
Peterson’s winning throw for distance was achieved using a traditional paper airplane design mastered by generations of children. His design for hang time was nearly as successful and came from a YouTube video, a resource used by many contestants.
“I think it’s just simple design and putting a little ‘umph’ behind it to give it some muscle and get it as far as you can,” Peterson said. “At the end of the day, it’s just a piece of paper that can only go so far.”
Felchle used one plane for both throws and spent more than an hour practicing before making his impressive throws for the competition.
“I just stuck with the design I grew up making in the back of church with my gum wrappers,” he said. “I started practicing as soon as I got here because if you’re going to do something, try your best. It was fun. It was a good time.”
Two student athletes on UND’s track team came to the Red Bull contest with hopes of winning a trip to Austria. Cornelia Wohlfahrt, who’s from Austria and a sophomore majoring in kinesiology, wanted to find a way for her roommate, Greta McLagan, a junior from Fargo majoring in nursing, to visit her during the summer.
“Our coach let us know there’s a competition where you can win a trip to Austria,” Wohlfahrt said. “Why not try?”
Matt Wunderlich, a freshman in the aviation program from Perham, Minn., said he decided to attend UND because he wanted to become a pilot.
“I heard about this Red Bull Wings contest and thought it was a quicker way to become a pilot,” he joked. “But I tossed my airplane and it always went to the right. I’m thinking it’s more user error rather than plane error.”
Two contestants who showed up for the competition were retired U.S. Air Force veterans who won’t be moving on to Denver. They were UND President Andy Armacost and Bob Kraus, dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.
“It’s much harder than it looks,” Armacost said. “When you’re a little kid and throw paper airplanes, it seems like they go much farther than they actually do.”
Kraus, a former Air Force pilot, had good advice on how to properly design a paper airplane, but it didn’t help him win the competition.
“The key is balance and being symmetric because if it’s not, your airplane is going to turn, it’s going to roll, it’s going to spin,” he explained. “It’s not going to go straight. This isn’t something you need a degree in. A lot of it’s just trial and error.”
Armacost thanked Red Bull for coming to UND and sponsoring the contest.
“Paper airplanes are a great way to spur the imagination of the members of our campus,” he said. “If you can regress back to childhood a little bit and say, ‘Wow! There’s much more to my paper airplane than I thought,’ then maybe it promotes greater learning and discovery on the campus.”