LAKEVIEW — It was all about getting things straight and balanced for the planes to have a smooth landing.
Zaryaal Khan, a fourth-grader at Clinton Elementary, knew it wasn't easy. It was the first Paper Plane Invitational for Clinton and Hamilton elementary school students, and Zaryaal had to rebuild her paper airplane five times before it would fly across the gym to her partner.
The 10-year-old nervously clutched her hands to her chest as she watched her partner try to do the same thing.
“I was trying to make the wings in the correct place," she said. "They were off. They weren’t straight. It was really hard."
Serena Dai joins DNAinfo Radio to chat about the paper airplane competition:
Zaryaal and nearly 90 other students from the two schools gathered in Hamilton's gym, 1650 W. Cornelia Ave., this week for six rounds of competition involving paper airplanes, from distance and accuracy to creativity.
Zaryaal's contest was a blueprint relay, in which teams of students made planes based on a blueprint and flew them over to a partner to complete the next leg.
Many of the students hadn't even played around with paper airplanes until parents Leonard and Ruth Rau pitched the idea to Hamilton officials earlier this year. Since then, teachers at both schools have incorporated paper airplanes into some math, science and art lessons this year.
"It was really fun," said Ashley Jantke, a fifth-grader at Hamilton, whose team won first place in the relay. "When we first heard about this, I didn’t even know how to make a paper airplane."
"It was really fascinating," classmate Jaleel Wright added. "I like learning about airplanes because I always wondered — how does an airplane get into the air? Then I learned, the wind pushes up and down."
"It was just like we were learning about real airplanes," Hamilton fifth-grader Aniah Knight piped in.
In fact, one of the competition's judges, who has worked as an aviation consultant for 16 years, looked at the designs much as he would look at the designs of real planes.
They must be pointing forward, Michael Brask said. The weight must be balanced. And the rudders must be adjusted to help a plane stay on the same course, he said.
The challenges of flight were particularly highlighted in one of the surprise material rounds, where students were tasked with making planes out of tissue paper, Brask said.
Despite the flimsiness of the material, students managed to get their planes at least a little bit in the air by adding more layers for strength, taping them together to prevent tears and using straws to stiffen them, Brash said.
"It's hard," he said. "I'm not sure I would have done the same things."
That testing and adjusting is part of what the event's organizers hoped students would get out of it, said Leonard Rau. Engineers and technicians must do the same thing with real planes.
"In real life, you don't just build it and go 'done,'" he said. "You tweak it. You refine it. It will get better."
Of course, in the heat of the competition, laughter and cheering trumped any talk of engineering.
"It is like a party," Clinton Principal Eduardo Cesario said.
Added Hamilton Principal James Gray, "It's a way a school should be."