Three British amateur aerospace enthusiasts have successfully sent a camera-equipped paper airplane to an altitude of 89,000 feet (27,127 meters), where it captured images of the blackness of space before gliding back to Earth. Project PARIS (Paper Aircraft Released Into Space) involved getting the plane into the stratosphere using a weather balloon before letting it go via a release mechanism. Our regular readers will no doubt remember a recent similar project, in which a father and son obtained photos of outer space, before their camera-in-a-fast-food-box parachuted back to the ground.

First of all, it should be noted that the plane, called Vulture 1, is not simply a folded-up piece of paper. It’s actually quite a complex, sharp-looking custom model aircraft, complete with a framework and fuselage... although it is constructed from paper.

The plane was attached to a styrofoam payload box, which was in turn attached to the balloon. The payload box contained video and still cameras, a GPS tracking unit, a back-up beacon transmitter, and the release mechanism. Vulture 1 also contained a GPS unit, a miniature camera, and an all-important toy plastic test pilot.

The flight took place on October 28th, when members of the PARIS team – Steve Daniels, John Oates and Lester Haines – launched their rig from a field outside of Madrid, Spain. The plane took 90 minutes to complete its return flight, and ended up landing in the woods just 100 miles (161 km) from the launch site, with only a small hole in one wing. The balloon proceeded to burst due to the low-pressure environment, at which point the payload parachuted back to Earth.

"I was amazed how sturdy the plane proved to be thanks to Lester's design," Oates told Gizmag. "I was amazed that we managed to track it [...] and found the main payload too. I was also surprised at the quality, and amount, of video footage we got."

The PARIS crew met and organized their project through the tech website The Register. Besides being a clever acronym, their name also pays homage to one Ms. Paris Hilton – just as she used the Internet to advance her career, they hope to use it to advance aerospace technology.

All photos courtesy The Register.

View gallery - 8 images