Students show off paper airplane skills

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If you asked a SLU student what word might  to mind when hearing the “Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology,”  it would most likely  not be ‘fun’.  Despite the demanding curriculum and national prestige, for those inside the program, the activities inside McDonnell-Douglass can be as much fun as it is challenging. On March 28, the atmosphere of creativity and camaraderie was in full force as the Red Bull Paper Wings competition made its way to Saint Louis University. Red Bull sponsored cars with giant cans on the back greeted those passing by MDH.

“It looked like a lot of fun, just a bunch of people hanging out and drinking Red Bull,” said sophomore Ben Winokur. “It makes the experience at Parks more enjoyable and adds variety.”

Inside the doors, students competed for a $100 Visa gift card, hundreds of pounds of Red Bull, and a chance to visit Austria. Beyond the prizes lies an opportunity to establish themselves as the premier paper airplane engineer and aviator worldwide.

The Paper Wings competition pits not only SLU student against their fellow Billikens, but against students around the globe. The competition is open to students from all academic backgrounds, and measures both contestants’ paper-plane engineering and aviation abilities.

In all, 57 paper-pilots challenged for the title of SLU’s best. Standing in the halls of McDonnell-Douglass, students lined up with their paper airplanes and attempted to set the pace in distance traveled, airtime, and aerobatics. Each student designed separate planes for the categories in which they competed. The aerobatics category judges the pilot’s creativity and flight path on a scale from one to ten.

In a building full of some of SLU’s best and brightest students, including those with coursework in disciplines specifically tailored to engineering a flying object, staged a heated battle to be the last pilot flying in the Paper Wings challenge.

Ultimately, freshman Wolf Gaidis rose above them all. Gaidis, a psychology major, didn’t even know about the Paper Wings until the day he competed. He said he stumbled into the competition on his way out of Spanish class in MDH, and after showing his paper-plane skills, a judge recommended that he enter the contest.

A knack for designing and flying paper airplanes developed in Gaidis’s youth.

He said that he would often have contests with his father to see who could throw their airplane the farthest.

“He would always let me win until the end. Then he would always say, ‘Wait, I have one more,’” Saidis said.

“Then he would pull out one plane that could soar. He would destroy me, but he’d never let me see how he would fold it, at least until I turned 13.”

Five years later, his father’s wisdom has put him in a spot to represent the United States in the Paper Wings World Finals in Austria.

Gaidis pulled out a victory over fellow Parks freshman Anthony Tabanji. Tabanji won the distance challenge with ease, posting a distance of 62 feet 7 inches. Gaidis was not to be denied, however.

His six seconds of airtime narrowly edged Tabanji’s flight duration of 5.9 seconds.

With the two pilots neck and neck, the outcome relied on the aerobatics category. Gandis posted a score of 27 points, tying for the highest in the category and staking his claim as the Red Bull Paper Wings SLU champion.

Gaidis said his experiences with remote control planes and hang-gliding helped him understand aerodynamics and gave him the ability to impress the judges in the aerobatics category.

“I tweaked the plane, and they [the judges] said they hadn’t seen anyone do a loop or barrel roll like the one I did,” Gaidis said. “I tuned it so barrel and shadow out. You really have to throw it hard.”