Participants at the Redbull Paper Wings World Final in Austria. Photo Courtesy of: Redbull

Paper airplanes, once the menace of substitute teachers and students brave enough to share their skills at talent shows, now could translate into a trip to Austria. That is, if your paper airplane skills are the best in the country.

Paper-pilots will have the chance to spread their wings and glide across the Cal State Long Beach University Student Union’s ballroom when the Red Bull Paper Wings contest lands at the university Tuesday, March 10 as the school serves as one of 75 national qualifiers. The contest, which started in 2006, rates top performers determined from three categories (longest distance, longest airtime, aerobatics) with the distance and time winners advancing to the global finals May 8-9 in Salzburg, Austria. But mostly, it’s about being creative, having fun and chucking paper airplanes as far and high as possible.

Bringing the event to the Long Beach campus, which is one of 75 qualifiers being held on college campuses nationwide, was made easy by the fact that Red Bull is already a vendor on campus, according to Alexis Rockwell, a program coordinator at the University Student Union. She added that a combination of high-foot traffic and college students’ sense of curiosity is a perfect place for Red Bull to host such an event, so it makes sense that all the qualifiers, although open to public, are being held on college campuses.

“If you had it on a shopping mall or something, it’s not like there are 35,000 people going through a shopping mall everyday,” Rockwell said. “With us you already have a giant mass of people and college students just in general are so willing to try anything. A student every day wants to see something new and exciting. That’s just how college students are. They’ll try anything once almost.”

The rules are simple: each contestant will get a sheet of paper provided by Red Bull and they will utilize their creativity, folding abilities and knowledge of aeronautics to create a plane that’s build for distance, hang-time or trickery. The planes must be built at the event with the paper provided by Red Bull and can’t contain any kind of weights, other propellants and must be thrown by the person participating.

The planes will then be launched down a 50-foot runway that will be erected in the USU’s ballroom, which Rockwell hopes to fill to its capacity of 500 people. The standards governing the contest are the same put in place by the Paper Aircraft Association (PAA) and Guinness World Record to ensure the results are comparable globally. The Guinness marks sit at nearly 227 feet or distance and over 27 seconds for time.

paperwingsThe distance and time competitions will allow for two throws from each participant, allowing the use of multiple planes, with the longest attempt being recorded. The aerobatics portion of the event provides for more creativity, placing less restrictions on the builder and with the voting being carried out via online crowd response.

Rockwell said that a big part of her job is to plan events that appeal to different groups on campus that might not regularly be catered to. She thinks the Paper Wings contest will especially appeal to the engineering majors on campus since physics and design will play a large role in who comes out on top at Tuesday’s event.

“I think it’s really cool for an engineering student on campus because they get to utilize their skills,” Rockwell said. “The average student doesn’t see the fun in being an engineer major and something as silly as making a paper airplane really does show that you have a skill set that’s different than the average student. And if you can fly a piece of paper over 60 meters, you have a pretty cool talent.”

Fernando Dehonor, a 5th-year senior engineering major at Long Beach, echoed Rockwell’s sentiment about his classmates in the engineering department, adding that all of the imagination and creativity present on college campuses make for an energetic and fun atmosphere. 

“These events get very competitive! As a student passionate about aerospace it is cool to apply science to a fun, unique, and entertaining experience,” Dehonor said. “It’s amazing how much creativity is involved. I’ve seen paper airplane designs that resemble fighter jets! It’s cool to see what people can do with a simple piece of paper.”

The contest will span across four continents, 80 different countries and include tens of thousands of pilots, in what is, according to Red Bull, the top paper plane contest. While national qualifiers are just kicking off, the international bests are currently held residents of Canada (57.7 meters) and Taiwan (10.8 seconds). The champions from 2012 were Lebanon’s Elie Chemaly whose plane glided through the air for 10.68 seconds and and by the Czech Republic’s Tomas Beck who tossed his plane 50.37 meters.

So the bar has been set high, with both champion’s marks being bested in the qualifying rounds. So, if any Long Beach students are looking to score a free vacation by becoming one of 12 national finalists that earn a trip to the historic Hanger-7 in Austria that is home to the Flying Bulls, they might need to drink a few Red Bulls. The two top pilots from the United States, one for time and distance, will advance to the global final.

Rockwell said the prospect of free travel has students on campus excited.

“I think the biggest appeal for students is the fact that if you do win you get to go to a nationals and if you win at the national level you get to go compete in another country,” Rockwell said. “Which obviously, as a student, that’s such a cool opportunity to be able to go somewhere in the world for free and get to compete.”

People interested in entering the contest can check in here

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.