07/52: Paper Airplane

Getting the most out of a sheet of paper


Each week for a year, I’m going to be designing a shirt and releasing it on my Threadless store. This is the seventh design of fifty-two.


Sometime in late elementary school, browsing through a Waldenbooks* at the Fox Valley Mall, I stumbled upon a book about paper airplane design. 30 Designs for the Paper Pilot taught you how to build some (absurdly) complex paper airplanes.

The author, Peter Vollheim, was a pilot and created airplanes using regular paper, card stock, index cards, business cards, straws and other common materials. He tested his designs with wind tunnels and then provided detailed instructions for how to build them at home. He got the most out of his materials and the paper airplanes he designed flew far and straight. I eventually purchased Vollheim’s two other books, 30 More Planes for the Paper Pilot and The Paper Ace.

And while these books helped me build some wicked paper airplanes, I think they heavily influenced my design style, too. Most people who are interested in paper folding start with origami — the art of paper folding. But while I played around with some simple origami, I was much more intrigued by the functionally of paper airplanes.

Early in my design career, many of my creations contained interesting paper folding. Looking back, I can see the influence that Vollheim’s books had on my thought process. Even though they didn’t fly, my folded paper designs were absolutely intended to get the most possible out of a sheet of paper, just like Vollheim’s airplanes. ( I don’t fold paper as much as I used to… maybe it’s time to get back to my roots.)

I was disappointed — but not surprised — to find that Vollheim’s three books were out of print. And while you can still get used copies of the books on Amazon, I was delighted to discover Vollheim has a web site were you can still purchase all three books as a PDF. If you are interested in the aerodynamics of paper airplanes, you’ll love these books.

This week’s shirt, Paper Airplane, is a symbol of my love for paper airplanes and a salute to the books that influenced me at a young age. You can purchase the shirt in a wide range of colors and styles from my Threadless shop.**

* Or maybe it was a B. Daltons. I miss mall book stores.

** Pretty much every color but white and orange.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. He's currently in the middle of a project to design a new shirt a week for an entire year. Follow Bob on TwitterInstagram and Micro.Blog.