In the world of competitive paper airplane throwing, a 20-second flight is exceptional, 25 or better is world class.
Thirty is the stuff dreams are made of.
Only one man — Japanese paper airplane virtuoso Takuo Toda — has ever come close to breaking the 30-second barrier. On Sunday, he set a world record for a hand-launched plane made with only paper, but fell just short of the 30-second mark.
Toda, flying a 10-centimeter-long craft of his own design, made 10 attempts to break his own record of 27.9 seconds set earlier this year in Hiroshima but failed to best his previous mark, settling for a 26.1-second flight.
That was still the best ever recorded for a strictly paper-only craft. His 27.9 record was set with a plane that had tape on it.
"I felt a lot of pressure," he said after his paper airplane fly-off at a Japan Airlines hangar near Tokyo's Haneda Airport. "Everything is a factor — the moisture in the air, the temperature, the crowd."
Toda, an engineer, is the head of the Japan Origami Airplane Association and is virtually unmatched in his ability to fold paper aircraft.
In keeping with traditional rules of the ancient Japanese art of origami, he uses only one sheet of paper, which he does not cut or paste.
He flew two variations of his world record-setting paper airplane Sunday — the one he used to set the duration record in April and an updated version with a fin. His April mark was recognized by Guinness World Records.
He did not use tape Sunday, which is allowed by Guinness. He chose to forgo tape because he wanted to follow traditional origami rules. His 26.1 mark was the best ever for a plane without cellophane tape keeping it together. Toda had that previous best as well, just over 24 seconds.
"I will get the 30-second record," he said. "It's just a matter of time."
Toda said that the secret to throwing a paper airplane is to aim upward — not straight — so that it has time to gain altitude and slowly circle back to the ground. Toda appeared to be on his way to a record Sunday, but his second and best throw was ruled a foul because it hit a passenger jetliner parked nearby.
"It's really a sport," he said. "The throwing technique is very delicate."
Along with breaking the 30-second barrier, Toda said his next goal was to launch a paper airplane from space. With funding from Japan's space agency, JAXA, Toda and a team of scientists have designed a plane they believe can withstand the intense heat of re-entry.
One of Toda's designs was scheduled to be released from the International Space Station this year, but that plan fell through in part because of problems with devising a means of tracking the planes as they fell back to Earth.
Toda and his colleagues are currently trying to interest Chinese or Russian space officials in reviving the idea.
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