Paper airplane prowess propels western aviation student to international competition | UGM News

Contact: Erin Flynn

KALAMAZOO, Michigan – While honing his skills on some of the most technologically advanced training equipment in aviation, a Western Michigan University student has achieved national champion status by going back to basics : make paper planes.

Evin Cooper, a fourth-year aviation science student from Monroe, Michigan, just returned from a whirlwind trip to Salzburg, Austria for the Red Bull Paper Wings World Championship. The event brought together the best paper pilots in the world, representing more than 60 countries.

“It’s all been really crazy. I didn’t expect to tell my friends that I’m a paper plane launcher and I’m going to do it competitively,” he laughs.

Cooper’s foray into throwing folded flyers began by chance when he showed up for work one day as a line service representative at Western’s College of Aviation.

Evin Cooper stands on a winners podium with a big check.

Cooper broke the national airtime record at the Red Bull Paper Wings National Finals in Dayton, Ohio. (Courtesy of Red Bull)

“I wasn’t even scheduled that day, I just needed a few extra hours. But when I got there, none of my friends were in the break room. So I went down to the hangar,” he remembers. He found a DJ playing music, Red Bull displays and tables full of paper to fold planes for a Red Bull Paper Wings Qualiflyer event. “They were just messing around throwing planes around, so it was really a stroke of luck that I showed up that day.”

Cooper decided to put some of his aerodynamic lessons to the test, working the angles to create a glider that could stay aloft for as long as possible. He ended up taking first place in the airtime competition with a time of 4.97 seconds, earning him a spot at the Red Bull Paper Wings National Finals in Dayton, Ohio. But with double-digit hang times among elite paper fliers, Cooper had to hone his skills to compete at the next level.

“After work, I would go to the hangar where we were doing our competition and practice pitching the design that I was going to do. I had a few iterations of it,” he says. “The most important part is how he gets to the top. If he can do that, when he hits his highest point, he automatically starts going down. I think that’s the most ideal situation. “

Cooper’s hard work paid off. In Dayton, among dozens of competitors from colleges across the country, he nearly tripled his best pitch. His glider sailed through the air in 14.06 seconds, setting a new national airtime record and earning his ticket to the world championship.

The dream becomes reality

Although competitive paper airplane throwing was never on Cooper’s to-do list, he’s been inadvertently gearing up for the big leagues for years.

“I’ve been throwing things since I was a kid and I’ve played baseball most of my life, so it definitely helped me. Because getting the plane as high as possible is the goal, so it can float longer,” he said. He has also been fascinated with flying for as long as he can remember.

“I’ve always been in aviation. I started out building model airplanes,” says Cooper. At the age of 11, he knew he wanted to be a pilot. But it wasn’t until he arrived at Western, one of the best flight schools in the country, and sat in the cockpit of an airplane that he saw his dream within reach. hand.

Landing a place in the world championships unlocked another dream: to see the world. Cooper had never been out of the country before taking this all-expenses-paid trip to Austria.

Cooper practices his throwing technique inside the hangar at Western’s College of Aviation.

“I ended up staying an extra day on my free time so I could explore Salzburg and have some cool experiences there. I walked around the city for hours and took a cable car to the top of a mountain nearby and I was able to see the Alps and the whole city from there,” he says. “It makes me excited for my future career when I can fly abroad and stay overnight all the time.”

Cooper didn’t make it past the qualifying round in Salzburg – a passport mix-up delayed his arrival and left him only enough time for a practice run after he quickly crafted a plane – but he was lucky to interact with all the other competitors, who come from more than 40 countries, and discover their cultures.

“It was really cool, I just tried to talk to as many people as possible,” he says. “Not many people can say they have to do what I did. It’s a story I can tell for the rest of my life and memories I will have for the rest of my life.”

Memories manifested by a chance visit to the hangar at Western’s College of Aviation.

“Now whenever I see a competition like this, I’m never going to pass it up,” he says. “It makes me want to start trying everything now because of where it first got me. Taking more risks.”

In fact, Cooper is already thinking about the next Paper Wings competition, which will take place in 2025. By then, he hopes it will keep commercial planes aloft for well over 14 seconds.

“Western is a world-class training environment,” he says. “Western also has extensive relationships with just about every major airline you can think of, so it will be much easier to find a job once I graduate and have my hours.”

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