Paper wings fly high, but not quite to a record altitude

Peru native falls short of paper-airplane record

Peru native Brian Koehler
Peru native Brian Koehler

How high could you fly a paper airplane? Twenty or 30 feet?

Peru native Brian Koehler and friends from Chicago spent Saturday morning trying to get their paper airplane to fly 23 miles above the planet – 130,000 feet, to be exact.

Koehler is a member of the Rogers Park Space Program. The mission was to break the Guinness record for highest altitude for paper-airplane flight, currently 115,000 feet. To get a paper airplane that high, the amateur aviators launched a hydrogen-filled weather balloon from a grassy area located directly south of Parkside School.

The effort attracted some onlookers who applauded as the balloon took off. Ultimately, the balloon wasn’t sufficiently inflated. It couldn’t reach the stratosphere as Koehler and friends had hoped.

“I’m kind of disappointed, because everything went really well,” Koehler said. “But then the wind made it difficult to fill it properly and made us think it had more lift than it did.”

It was actually their second attempt to crack the Guinness Book of World Records. Koehler and his comrades had tried to launch the airplane in 2019, but some of the equipment failed when the batteries gave out as the air temperature plunged to 40 degrees below zero.

Koehler doesn’t recall exactly how the project evolved. The 1993 graduate of La Salle-Peru Township High School cultivated an interest in aviation, among other sciences, and thumbed through the pages of Guinness, where he eventually ran across the mark for how high paper airplanes were flown.

“And we thought, ‘It looks like we could beat this.’”

They’re loosely targeting spring 2022 for another try. This will require some planning, as well as, active coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA requires constant contact to ensure the balloon doesn’t enter into a flight path or airport.

Koehler said there are reasons to think the third time might be the proverbial charm. Years ago, the Rogers Park Space Program launched a balloon (albeit without a paper airplane) and got it to 126,000 feet, which would have been high enough to topple the Guinness record had they figured out then how to release an airplane.

“So we’re pretty confident we can do it, we just need all the pieces in place.”