dart plane

Gery Hsu's Dart Plane

Remember Gaff (Edward James Olmos) continuously leaving behind tiny origami artefacts, thereby more or less cryptically commenting situations in Blade Runner? The famous unicorn in particular? Well, during the Christmas days I unearthed a book I 15 years ago ordered from Dover Publications: Gery Hsu’s 1992 “How to make origami airplanes that fly.” The inside of my copy is littered with quarter- and half-finished specimen. Obviously I tried out a lot of models, but always had to give up and abandon the projects—with the exception of the very first model in the book, the “Space Shuttle” (pp. 12-15)—glides greatly! With zeal and determination this time I managed to finish one of the complex designs! Above you see my first two renditions of the “Dart Plane.” (pp. 64-71) The piece to the right is my first attempt—believe it or not, it took me three days. The problem is that Hsu clearly is an expert and in between steps simply takes a lot of things for granted. At several stages it took me hours to fathom how to get from the shape in one diagram to the shape in the next one. Sometimes it seems downright impossible. By Zen-like patience and a lot of folding and unfolding, trial and error, finally you can indeed achieve it. When I had done it I took the liberty to get my breath again for a day and then restarted. The result is the way clearer and less crumbled one to the left, which only took me about two hours.

There are several things which fascinate me with this. First of all that it is possible to create a complex shape like that, which really looks like a fighter plane, from a single piece of square paper alone, without doing any cutting or gluing. It is folding only. Secondly the fact that all the models in Hsu’s book indeed do fly, and hence are the product of the fusion of artistic paperfolding and aeronautics. Thirdly, a bit metaphysically, the fusion of an art stemming from the Edo era (1603-1867) with contemporary high-end design and technology.