This I Believe

Tom - Worthington, Ohio
Entered on February 12, 2007

I believe in making paper airplanes. This makes sense from a professional point-of-view, for I am an aeronautical engineer by education and an aerodynamicist by training and experience. I also find folding and flight testing – it’s an industry term – paper airplanes quite a lot of fun. However, I’m not talking about an ordinary, grade-school-issue, throw-when-the-teacher-isn’t-looking variety paper airplane; I’m talking one that does justice to my profession. One that exhibits superior flight characteristics, excellent survivability, appropriate weight distribution, and is moderately difficult but straightforward to fold. As an aeronautical engineer, I believe that it is my imperative – nay, my duty – to be able to fold an exceptional and finely crafted paper airplane.

I have heard it said that engineers make the things that make world go around, because they are the ones that design and build things that help everyone else get things done. In a sense, engineers are the ones who actually solve the world’s problems. Think of it: there is hardly anything – from pencils to rockets – that has not gone across an engineer’s desk at some point during its development. In my limited experience, solving technical problems can be as much an art as a science. In this sense, folding a paper airplane combines the old-world feel of origami with the new-world technology of the jet age. While a first-class paper airplane starts with a good design, it can only be made by making precise and crisp folds. The same can said of real airplanes.

As an aerodynamicist, I am expected to have a technical understanding of fluid flow-related phenomena. However, as all engineers can attest to, most of this technical stuff, and more importantly techo-speak, is lost on John Q Public (and even most non-aerospace engineers). That leaves me having explain how air – which you cannot see – moves around and through objects. This is a complex technical concept, involving higher-level math and physics, yet it is best explained to everyone – kids and adults alike – using everyday language; and what is more everyday than folding a piece of paper? In the end, I like to think of it this way: a simple act of folding paper could inspire a young child to look up to the sky in wonder and excitement at the beauty and grace of flight, and perhaps – just perhaps – there is a chance they will be inspired to become someone who helps solve the world’s problems. This is why I believe in making paper airplanes.