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Mount Orégano
Sue Burke
Paper Into Planes 
29th-Nov-2017 09:55 am
Let me see..
The Wright Brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903. Paper airplanes appeared in history several years later.

And yet, any child can make a paper airplane. The Chinese invented paper 2000 years ago and had kites. Birds have been flying since dinosaur times, and humanity has dreamed of flying since the stone age. Paper models of sailing ships, hot air balloons, and dirigibles were available before 1903. Japanese origami had already reached wonderful sophistication. Nothing was stopping anyone from making a paper airplane.

Except one thing: no one knew what an airplane looked like or how it would work. No one could imagine it. Orville and Wilbur had to develop an accurate understanding of how wing shape affected air pressure and created lift in order to make a real airplane, and by 1899 they had built intricate gliders and harnessed wind power. Their discoveries would soon be transferred to a simplified three-dimensional paper model. The rest is history.

This leaves me sitting here staring at a sheet of paper, wondering what unprecedented things it could do, things that would delight any child, if I could only imagine them.

— Sue Burke
29th-Nov-2017 08:29 pm (UTC)
Paper itself is pretty amazing - this light, thin, flat stuff that can be folded and re-folded, and that stays crisply folded, unlike fabric. We totally take it for granted because it's ubiquitous in our culture, but suppose the stuff had never been invented? We'd have to do all our writing in string or something, like the Incas did.

The Chinese had gliders from about the 5th century BC, but they didn't use them much because their giant kites were so much better and safer. Leonardo invented a bunch of little winged flying toys, though probably not made of paper. Modern gliders were flying successfully a century before the Wright Brothers got a powered craft into the air. The 'classic' paper airplane as we make them nowadays wasn't invented till after the Depression - I surmise its sudden rise in popularity was due to the popularity of that ubiquitous paper product, the daily newspaper. Have to admit, it was a stroke of genius!

When the World Trade Center was brand-new, a family friend took me to lunch at the top of it for my birthday. After lunch I wrote a little poem on a piece of paper, made an airplane, and launched it over the high guard-fence. It went up and up and up and up till it vanished in the summer haze. Probably it's still up there somewhere.
30th-Nov-2017 01:55 am (UTC)
Paper has made your poem immortal.
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