Was the World Series Paper Airplane the Best Ever?

The stadium scene.
Oct. 29 2013 1:50 PM

Was the World Series Paper Airplane the Best Ever?

An in-depth investigation.

With two outs in the bottom of the seventh and Red Sox ace Jon Lester on the hill, the Busch Stadium crowd saw perhaps the best throw of Game 5 of the World Series. Before Lester had the chance to throw his 2-2 pitch to Yadier Molina, a paper airplane glided down to within a few feet of the pitcher’s mound.

The handmade glider was certainly impressive, but was it, as Fox announcer Joe Buck declared, “one of the world’s greatest paper airplanes”?

No, it was not.

Advertisement

Although there are a number of unknowns that make answering this question difficult, we can certainly rule out the possiblity that this was the best airplane ever. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest paper airplane toss is  226 feet, 10 inches. Comparing the distance of the St. Louis airplane with this record-setter is tricky given that Fox didn’t capture a shot of the thrower. Even so, it’s unlikely the Busch Bomber could have even qualified for record-setting consideration. The standard rules set by Guinness dictate that a qualifiying paper must be made from 8.5-by-11-inch paper that weighs no more than 100 grams per square meter.

As you can see in the image below, the Spirit of St. Louis (Paper Edition) was likely fashioned from a much bigger sheet of paper. It appears to be at least 11 by 17 inches, perhaps even larger.

paper airplane

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

Given the size of the paper, 100 grams per square meter is the absolute floor for what it could have weighed. More likely, it weighed between 120 and 170 grams per square meter, a tonnage that is reserved for booklets and magazines. By comparision, standard office paper weighs 80 grams per square meter.

Bigger and and heavier planes have an aerodynamic advantage over smaller, lighter ones. Larger planes allow for larger wings, which give more lift. Heavier planes have more momentum, which allows them to sail a greater distance. (That’s the same reason you can throw a baseball much farther than a beachball.)

Even if this entrant in the World Series of Paper did comply with all regulations, did it travel far enough to contend for a record? Below is an image via Google Earth showing where the plane would need to take off to set a world record.

paper-airplane-diagram
You'd likely have to stand outside the stadium to toss a plane 226 feet away.

Image from Google Earth

While we don’t know where the flight started, we can “ballpark” its starting point by noting that it flew in from the first-base side of the pitcher’s mound. As you can see above, you’d most likely have to be standing outside the stadium to toss a plane from 226 feet away on the first base side. Furthermore, it should be noted that any point in the stands will be much higher than the playing field. Given that height advantage, it’s likely that a plane would be able to glide further than if you were throwing from the same point on flat ground, making any world-record claims even more dubious.

Still, let us pause for a moment to marvel at the throw’s accuracy—assuming, of course, that the pitcher’s mound was the intended target and not a passing Cracker Jack vendor. Additionally, while the Guinness rules allow 10 attempted throws in competition, the hurler here most likely had just one toss to get it perfect.

Got additional information about the Busch Stadium paper airplane? Did you throw it? Do you know who did? Send me an email and I’ll update the post with new information.

Ben Blatt is a Slate staff writer and co-author of I Don't Care if We Never Get Back. Follow him on Twitter. Email him at ben.blatt@slate.com.