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Missouri S&T student will trade airplanes for paper planes at international competition

Jonathan Ahl
St. Louis Public Radio
Dillon Ruble holds up his design for the paper airplane he will make and use in the Red Bull Paper Wings competition in Salzburg, Austria. In the U.S. national competition he won by flying his paper airplane nearly 200 feet.

ROLLA — Dillon Ruble, an aerospace engineering major at Missouri University of Science and Technology, is graduating this month, but he won’t be at his graduation ceremony; he’ll be at a paper airplane competition in Austria.

The St. Charles native will be representing the U.S. in Red Bull’s Paper Wings competition on May 14, pitting the best folders and flyers from around the world to see who’s best at making a humble sheet of paper into a flying machine.

“I entered because one of my fraternity brothers is the campus representative for Red Bull, and he mentioned the local qualifier for the competition, and I figured I’d give it a shot,” Ruble said.

Ruble started by copying the design of the 2019 winner in the distance competition and adding his own modifications.

“I’ve done origami for 10 years, just off and on, and so I think that definitely helped a lot, just because I know folding techniques,” he said.

His design has 10 folds at the tip, creating 20 layers of paper. The Paper Wings competition uses the A4 size of paper, which is 8.3 by 11.7 inches, slightly different from standard letter paper.

Ruble said he is drawing from many aspects of his background to succeed in paper airplane competition.

“I kind of have the trifecta. I have aerospace knowledge helping me out, origami, and I also played baseball for 12 years, and I was a pitcher, so I have a throwing arm as well,” Ruble said.

Red Bull
Dillon Ruble competes at the Red Bull Paper Wings national championship in Denver.

Ruble’s design and arm led him to throw a paper airplane 196.9 feet at the national competition in Denver in April. Red Bull reports that’s a record distance.

There are three competitions at Paper Wings: distance, airtime and aerobatics. Salzburg will host 171 students from 57 countries.

Ruble said he’s spending “a good amount of time” practicing, but not at the expense of preparing for final exams. He’s hoping for some windless days so he can practice outdoors.

“I’ve tried practicing indoors in the gym, and I just hit the wall, like 30 feet up, across the room, so it’s kind of difficult, actually,” Ruble said.

The winners of the competition will get to go up in real planes with the Flying Bulls, Red Bull’s stunt air team. But Ruble is just trying to focus on having fun.

“I’ve already met so many really great and smart people through this competition and building relationships that will last a long time,” Ruble said. “And paper airplanes are fun. You have these memories of you and your friends when you’re kids making planes and enjoy watching the finished product after you’ve made it.”

Ruble will be in Austria during the Missouri S&T commencement ceremony, so he will probably walk across the stage in December. By then he will be six months into his job at Boeing, which he starts after graduation.

“I’m not sure if this competition will go on my resume, but is sure is something fun to talk about,” Ruble said.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Jonathan is the Rolla correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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