Airplanes weren’t the only things taking flight at the Olympia Regional Airport on Saturday afternoon.
A group of small-scale pilots gathered at the Olympic Flight Museum to try flying themselves. But their aircraft were much smaller, and they weren’t made of steel and powered by engines.
The planes that flew across the museum were made of paper, powered by the pilots’ arms.
Teri Thorning, executive director of the museum, said the annual paper airplane contest is a 17-year tradition, and that between 100 and 150 people participate each year. Nearly anyone can participate, from preschoolers to adults.
“It’s a high-energy crowd,” Thorning said. “And it’s one of our more popular events.”
She said museum staff finds stray paper airplanes lodged all over the museum weeks after the competition.
Museum volunteer Bill Clow has run the program since it started. He introduces participants to the airplane-making process, then directs the competitions. Competitors were divided into age groups, each competing in two categories: distance and accuracy.
For the distance competition, participants lined up along a strip of tape and threw their planes as far as they could.
“There’s one real rule,” Clow said. “If your airplane hits something and comes to a stop, that’s as far as it goes. It’s just bad luck, and there are no do-overs.”
To test their planes for accuracy, competitors lined up their paper airplanes again and aimed at an empty trash can. Few hit the target on the first try.
“It’s hard for them to make it,” Thorning said. “So he moves it closer and closer until someone does.”
Winners in the children’s divisions won Olympia Flight Museum souvenirs, including T-shirts and model planes. Adult winners received free family memberships to the museum.
Olympia resident Eldon Stacey, 11, and his father, Andrew Stacey, both competed. Eldon made several paper airplanes in a variety of bright colors, and picked one for the competition based on its accuracy.
“It’s not a fast one,” Eldon said. “It kind of floats.”
He said he and his father are museum and history buffs, and were looking for something to do that afternoon. Eldon said he is particularly interested in World War II history — his grandfather served in the Navy.
“The planes here are fascinating,” Eldon said. “I like thinking about what makes them work.”