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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Japan's Paper Airplane Expert


When Ninomiya Yasuaki (surname first) was 19, Japan surrendered to end WWII, and with it was forced to give up his dream of studying aeronautics at university.

While the decision to bar Japan from being able to manufacture its own airplanes was not immediate after the surrender, Ninomiya knew it was only going to be a matter of time.

As such, why would he bother to studying the construction of aircraft et al?

At such time, being the failed conqueror, Ninomiya probably held little hope any other nation would want the former enemy working for them.

Now 90-years-old, he is considered to be one of the foremost experts on the design of paper airplanes. There’s nothing in Japan’s Constitution against that!

As a child in Sendai, Japan, he says his father would buy aircraft magazines, and fighter plane models for him, which help foster his love of aviation. He began to create his own paper airplanes.

In junior high school, he joined an airplane study club and got to fly in a real glider above real Japanese soldiers training below.

He says he was also transfixed by the beauty of the Allied B-29 bombers as they attacked his city during an air-raid. Now that’s passion. A little warped, but passion nonetheless.

After high school with Japan’s defeat squashing his aviation dreams, he studied telecommunications and joined Japan’s telecommunications ministry, which is now Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.

In 1966 when reading a newspaper article about the world’s first international paper plane competition being held in 1967 in San Francisco, he began thinking once again about his love of aviation.

He quickly created eight paper gliders and sent them over to San Francisco, winning two 1st place awards in two categories: Flight Duration (how long aloft); and Flight Distance (distance covered).

After winning, he created a monthly magazine column on paper airplane design and build in the science magazine Kodomo no Kagaku (Science For Children).

He started up the Japan Paper Airplane association in 1984, and if you think that is weeinie, keep in mind that since 1993, every year sees 10,000 participants in Japan’s national competition.


For Ninomiya, his airplanes are designed on Kent paper, cut out and pasted on top a balsa wood panel, with the finished aircraft launched from a catapult and rubber band.

I own a book on how to make paper airplanes - one I bought from the school book program back when I was 10. I do still have it.

Ninomiya says that paper airplanes use lift just like real airplanes do, and can also be affected by center of gravity and other design effects.

He says he has designed over 2,000 different-looking paper airplanes, some flying better than others, but always created with the science of aviation in mind.

he recently donated over 200 of his paper airplanes to the Sendai Science Museum even though he now lives in Yokohama.

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