A smooth take-off!

Since yore, nothing has captured man’s imagination as much as flying. The desire to defy gravity has led to several inventions as well.

R VMChokkalingam

For many, this dream manifests in paper planes while growing up. For a few, it continues into adulthood. Like RVM Chokkalingam, a retired scientist from the National Aerospace Laboratories, Bangalore, who can boast of an incredible collection of paper planes, including some very colourful ones. The models can’t but tell you that the craft is more than creasing the paper at the folds.

“Making airplanes has always been a childhood game for me. I made countless planes using paper from school exercise books or pages torn out of glossy magazines. Sometimes this was done clumsily and sometimes carefully. The planes flew and then made smooth or rough landing. But they had a short life,” he remembers.

When he grew up, the interest in aerodynamics only grew. He enjoyed folding and flying paper aircraft even better. “Paper is a medium which can be used easily to make things. You require nothing more than ingenuity, patience and perseverance to make paper planes. They can fly indoors or outdoors, virtually in any condition,” he adds.

 He is only too willing to share the intricacies of this art but says although making paper planes may appear easy, it is not so. “You should know how and where it should be folded. Generally, all paper planes do not have engines, so thrust is first applied by the launch and then by gravity. Thrust and lift are the forces that make a paper plane fly. Gravity and drag are the forces that will eventually bring it back to earth,” he explains.

Chokkalingam has also worked as a lecturer at Sri Jayachamarajendra Polytechnic and as a curator at Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum.“When I was a curator, I used to design science exhibitions,” he informs. The experience only ignited his creativity.

He describes in depth how rewarding it is to watch a plane gliding through the air from the palm and hovering a while before landing. However, one should not use greasy hands or sticky fingers, he warns.

Surprisingly, the other types of origami have not fascinated him. So when does he fly? “When I get bored,” he quips. There is plenty of advice for those who have a similar passion. “Most of these planes fly best indoors, either in a large room or corridor. Large stairways, where the plane can be launched from the top, can make great flying areas,” he says.

He does ensure the airworthiness of the craft. “The foremost thing is to check its symmetry along the length of the plane. The centre of gravity must remain ahead of the centre of lift,” he adds.

But the flights are not always without turbulence either. “If the plane has a tendency to dive, you need to have the rear edges of their wings slightly curved up between the thumb and finger. If the plane banks to the left or right, one has to raise the rear edge on the opposite side of the way the plane goes,” he explains.

He says one can try and experiment unique designs after mastering the techniques. Meanwhile, this paper-plane enthusiast has plenty of feathers on his cap.
He is the recipient of ‘Science Communication Award for 2011-12’ and has also authored books, including one on science and spirituality.

Much lies ahead for him. Organising paper aircraft challenge competition, for instance. “I would like to go for a regular competition of paper aircraft flying,” he says. And perhaps watch more such dreams take flight.

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