The latest in my mad quest to do every challenge in The Dangerous Book for Boys with my sons in a year…Today I gave my son the choice between learning to make paper airplanes or playing his new Mario Party 8 game on the Wii. Gabe chose the Wii, leaving me to build the planes myself. Frankly, though, I was a little skeptical about the DBFB’s claim (page 2) that these were the instructions for “the greatest paper airplane in the world.” Recently my wife made a Rachel Ray recipe that purported to be “the world’s best chicken salad sandwich.” While it was “delish” it wasn’t even the best I’d ever had, and certainly not the world’s best. Sorry, Rach.
So that is why, despite my son’s non-interest in the subject, I felt the urge to continue on with my mission-to determine if this, truly, was the best paper flyer on the globe. The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn and Hal Iggulden, provides instructions for two planes-the more primitive Bulldog Dart and the world’s greatest Harrier. Figuring I’d better start simple, I began with the Bulldog Dart and immediately ran into a problem that is surely going to dog me through this next year. I’m terrible at following directions. If the directions tell me to do one thing, I will invariably do the opposite, although I am trying my best to follow them. Nor am I particularly handy or mechanical, even when I can comprehend the directions.
But I managed to build a fairly serviceable Bulldog Dart, thanks in large measure to the simple but highly useful line drawings that accompany the instructions. Feeling buoyed by my success, I turned my sights on the sleek and stylish Harrier. It begins the same as the Bulldog-by folding a piece of 8 1/2 x 11 piece of office paper lengthwise in half and turning the corners inward-but then spins off into a variation of its own. The Igguldens make a point of saying how simple these planes are to build, and that they fly better than more complicated designs. The problem for me was that by step four—fold the triangle over the corners? Huh?—I was lost.
I was building the planes on the kitchen table near the TV where Gabe was playing Wii-my ulterior motive being to see if my craft project could lure him away from his electronic stimulation. I called him over for help on the Harrier and Gabe, who, unlike his father, has a strong tactile intelligence, took a quick look at the illustration, told me what I was doing wrong, and returned to the Wii. Even with his advice I folded the paper this way and that and before long it was a mess of folds and I had to start over.
On my first go-round with the Harrier I reached step four before needing Gabe; this time I made it to step five before calling him over. “You’re welcome again,” he said to me after fixing my error. I completed the sixth and final step on my own, and I had done it. I had built the Harrier. Now it was time to see if its performance lived up to its billing.
For me, it did. It was truly amazing, the best paper airplane I’d ever built. I went to the top of our stairs and set her off on repeated test flights. On its best flights it rose and dipped and made curlicues in the air, one time ripping across the living room and past the open kitchen door where Gabe, still absorbed in his game of Wii, even noticed it.
If the Harrier were a chicken salad sandwich, it truly would be the world’s greatest. But as for my subtle ploy to get my son off the Wii, it didn’t work. Paper planes could not compete with Mario Party 8, and I never could interest him enough to get him to leave his video game. His attitude changed, however, after we went to pick up his brother at band practice. When we came home Hank started on his homework and Gabe, much to my pleasure, asked me if he could build an airplane too. While appearing to be bored by it initially, something about what was going on—maybe the sight of that sleek Harrier swooping past the kitchen door—had intrigued him.
We built Harriers together on the dining room table while Hank finished his homework and Jennifer cooked dinner. We flew them off the top of the stairs and then went outside to the driveway. Gabe’s Harrier actually spun around in the air and came back to him, another promise made by the Iggulden brothers that they delivered on. Afterward we painted our planes with Crayola pens—mine with Von Dutch-style black and red pinstripes, his with a red, turquoise and black color scheme. But we found that the painted planes did not fly as well as the plain white ones, perhaps because the ink weighed down their paper-thin wings.
The next morning Hank said he’d like to learn how to build a Harrier too. The younger brother taught the older one how to do it, and we all flew planes in the driveway and yard before walking to school. Gabe now keeps all the planes he’s made (about twenty at last count) on his dresser, and he has strung ribbons through the wings of a dozen of them and hung them from the ceiling of his bedroom. “You’ve created a paper airplane mania,” my wife said to me. Yes! Victory!
One more small victory: The other night, while setting the table, Gabe folded the napkins in the form of Harrier planes.