Children take wing with paper planes

Derby: Youths ages 2 to 13 create aircraft to fly the farthest in a College Park competition.

April 10, 2004|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,SUN STAFF

Logan Perlman walked to the runway. He'd never flown this plane before, at least not with so many eyes fixated on him, so he was a little nervous. How would it handle? How would the wind affect its path?

The plane took off, sailing higher and higher before making a loop and crashing to the ground in a crumpled heap.

Logan, 8, was unscathed. His paper airplane was not.

Logan was one of about 75 children who took part in the College Park Aviation Museum's Paper Airplane Week, which culminated with a paper airplane derby yesterday.

Up in the "hangar," a balcony overlooking the museum's collection of historic planes, children ages 2 to 13 were hard at work on their aircraft, following numbered instructions or just using their gut instincts. There's the standard paper airplane design, but also some more challenging models.

"We had people with Ph.D.s in here who couldn't make that one," said museum staff member Mary Wolfe, laughing as she pointed to a design.

Paper airplanes whizzed by in every direction, sailing over the balcony, slamming into walls, skidding along the carpeted floor. One nearly hit a girl square in the eye, which was saved from injury by the lens of her glasses.

Tracey Butler, assistant director of Seat Pleasant Activity Center, took a group of children to the museum after a week of bowling, skating and other activities. "This was the finale," she said.

The College Park Airport was founded in 1909 for the Wright brothers' instruction of the first military aviators. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is the world's oldest continuously operating airport.

The adjacent museum, in its fifth year, is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and offers family-friendly events.

"We pride ourselves on having something for everyone of every age. There's things here for 2-year-olds to do and things for their grandparents to do," said program curator Brigid Nuta.

While the kids were savoring the chance to toss airplanes without the risk of a phone call to Mom, Nuta said they were also learning about the basics of flying, from lift and drag to how much force is needed for a successful flight. The difference in a good plane or a bad plane can be the slightest fold.

The children moved downstairs to the museum's cramped lobby to compete for prizes awarded for accuracy and distance. It was not a 9/11 flight restriction -- there's just no other suitable airspace in the building for paper airplane flying.

One-by-one, kids stepped to the line to test their creations. Just like upstairs, planes darted into the crowd of onlookers. Nuta, seemingly out of harm's way, got poked in the face.

One of the longest flights came from Trevor Joyce, 8, of University Park. Along with his mother, Sherri, 36, and sister, Kelsey, 7, he's gone to the museum since it opened. He's also a four-year derby veteran whose friends made paper planes at an after-school program.

Not all were happy. Kjuan Lee's plane traveled no more than 2 feet before spiraling downward. Kjuan, 10, of Seat Pleasant, knew his plane would fare better on a second try.

"I held it at the wrong end. I didn't throw it right," he lamented. "I can throw them real far. Me and my uncle, that's all we do."

Twelve-year-old Chris Wallis of College Park ended up throwing a plane the farthest, and he said it was not by chance. He made several planes and tested them away from the rest of the children. His pick, dubbed The Slicer, sailed 10 feet farther than anyone else's.

For Kjuan, the issue wasn't so much that his plane didn't go as far as he had hoped.

"I got beat by a girl," he moaned.

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