Dylan Parker & James Norton
A passion for paper planes, darts and all things aeronautic was the chance beginning of a friendship that would lead two men to inspire generations of kids to dream big.

Having met at a paper plane competition in Canberra in 2008, Dylan Parker and James Norton immediately hit it off. They stayed in touch with each other and would end up competing at the National Paper Plane Championships, both winning in their categories and earning them a ticket to the World Championships in Austria in 2009.

“Representing Australia alongside 85 other countries and with thousands and media and supporters watching was an amazing experience. It was also the start of our incredible journey with paper planes which, after 12 years, continues to surprise us.”

Dylan managed a 3rd place winning a bronze medal, and a massive wave of accomplishment considering what he had been through, having only just recovered from surgery for a brain tumour.

Upon their return to Australia, things literally started to take off for the two, receiving a lot of media attention, a growing fanbase and increased requests for classroom visits to talk on and demonstrate the amazing world of paper planes. The wave of excitement was bigger than James and Dylan could ever have imagined and the educational value of paper planes dawned on them quickly.

“It started with a teacher friend inviting us into her classroom. We expected the kids to have fun, but we were surprised that they were also interested in learning about the science of flight. There are so many elements to paper planes that are critical to science education and problem solving. We thought, this could be more than just a hobby for us”.

Paper Pilots was soon born and since then, it’s been an incredible and fulfilling journey for James and Dylan. Paper Pilots has featured in two episodes of Australian Story, toured internationally, filled stadiums and libraries with thousands of screaming children in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and been involved in international projects with DFAT in India, Pakistan, Argentina and Bhutan. They were also the inspiration behind an Aussie feature film – PAPER PLANES – which tells the story about a young boy who dreams of competing in the World Paper Plane Championships in Japan.

Dylan and James have been building educational programs and experiences aimed at helping teachers bring STEM fundamentals to life and for students to ask “how do things fly?” Paper plane throwing can be used as a powerful educational tool to achieve outcomes in the Australian school curriculums throughout primary and secondary schools, exploring hands-on examples of geometry, symmetry and how shapes fit together.

The program is also a great resource for adults to brush up on fundamentals to create fun experiences for children around:

  • Forces — Lift, drag, thrust, gravity, contact and non-contact forces.
  • Flight in Nature — Adaptations, evolutionary flight traits and biomimicry.
  • Experiments and observations — Collect data and detect patterns in results.

As Australia celebrates its second century of flight, inspiring young people about aviation and STEM has never been more important.

“It is predicted that future careers will rely heavily on science, maths and critical thinking skills. For many kids, something simple like paper planes is a powerful and fun introduction to these complex subjects. Our Flight School program provides curriculum-aligned STEM activities that encourage learning and promote innovation and creative problem solving.”

James and Dylan are excited to be partnering with The Royal Australian Air Force in their centenary year to conduct community engagement events.

In addition to physical events, Dylan and James have put together some exciting online resources, designed for teachers and students. This means everyone can join in the spirit of the Air Force Centenary, even if they can’t go to an event – airforce2021.airforce.gov.au/paper-pilots

While Covid-19 has impacted their ability to go to some events this year, they have enjoyed running Covid-safe ‘Science of Flight’ workshops with young people in Perth, Broome and Temora NSW. They also accompanied Air Force to Horn Island in the Torres Strait to conduct community engagement activities.

Their engagement with Air Force’s Centenary program is designed to:

  • Honour the men and women who have served in Air Force in its first 100 years and the sacrifices they have made,
  • Demonstrate the amazing Air Force capabilities of today, and
  • Prompt people to consider how Air Force will continue to evolve in future.
  • Web resources include Teachers Resource kits for Year 4 and Year 7 students. These programs are aligned with the national STEM curriculum.

There’s also a ‘Flight School Hangar’ where children and parents can access some great paper plane designs and have fun building and flying them.

The Paper Pilots have been attending schools and events since 2008, helping kids discover their niche while sharing the story of their journey to become World Paper Plane Champions.

Many of their life lessons and insights gathered are highly useful and helpful to students and adults and they are both available to speak at events, talks, dinners and conferences as keynote speakers.

Not only this, but their ability to run amazing team building exercises through paper plane throwing adds an extremely memorable element.

Happy flying…!