Coolest paper airplane ever and the plane nut who built it (Q&A)

This is Luca Iaconi-Stewart’s scale model of a Boeing 777-300ER. Made entirely out of manila folders.


Luca Iaconi-Stewart

There are airplane nuts, and then there is Luca Iaconi-Stewart. Since 2008, the now 22-year-old has been crafting a scale-model of a Boeing 777-300ER. Out of manila folders.

Though he took off two years from the project while he was in school, Iaconi-Stewart has pretty much devoted his time to the plane, and it shows. Looking at photos of the model, even most aviation buffs would be impressed at the level of detail he achieved. There’s tiny seat-back video screens, overhead compartments, galleys, landing gears, tail cones, and meticulously made engines. Again, all out of manila folders.

The coolest (and most realistic) paper airplane ever (pictures)

Some might say that Iaconi-Stewart is a bit crazy to have put so much time and energy into what amounts to a fancy airplane model, and he’d be the first to agree with them. Yet, there’s no denying that what he’s built is an astounding work of craftsmanship.

CNET spoke with Iaconi-Stewart on Tuesday to find out what inspired the project and whether his next plane will be an Airbus A380. Once he makes some wings and finishes the whole thing, that is. And Boeing? If you’re hiring meticulous builders with an eye for incredible detail? Iaconi-Stewart would listen to your pitch.

Q: Why the 777?

Luca Iaconi-Stewart: I love the proportions and the way it looks, and it’s been a tremendously successful airplane (for Boeing). Not that that was a primary driver for me. I chose the 777-300-ER in particular because I prefer the proportions to the shorter -200 version.

Are you an aviation nut? Or is this a more casual affair with an airplane?

Iaconi-Stewart: I do love aviation, but I don’t go spotting all the time or anything. I follow the aviation world online. I frequent many times a day. So, perhaps “nut” is the right word, but I know people who are far crazier than I am.

What’s your favorite experience on/with an airplane?

Iaconi-Stewart: I love takeoff and landing (takeoff in particular). I still can’t quite wrap my head around how airplanes actually manage to fly, especially with ones like the A380 taking off at well above a million pounds, so it’s a pretty thrilling feeling. But, I know that for many, it’s a pretty terrifying experience, which I can completely understand.

I agree. Not being an engineer, I have trouble with it too. But somehow, I keep getting on planes. I went to the A380 factory in Toulouse, France, in 2011 for a story. That was fun.

Iaconi-Stewart: I am incredibly jealous.

Why? Tell me more.

Iaconi-Stewart: I haven’t ever been to either the Boeing or Airbus factories, but from everything I’ve seen, they’re really breathtaking operations that push the limits of what’s possible. I’d love to see the assembly line(s) in person. I have a lot of respect for people who build the jets.

Luca Iaconi-Stewart

Luca Iaconi-Stewart)

You talked about the proportions of the 777-300ER as having the right proportions. What is it about those proportions that spoke to you?

Iaconi-Stewart: It’s just something that looks “right” to me. I’s long enough to look sleek, and yet beefy enough in other parts (like the engines) to give it a balanced look. The fanblades on the engines are pretty amazing too. Plus, I just find the shape of things like the tail and tail cone and the raked wingtips visually appealing, though it’s hard to say exactly why.

So, why manila folders?

Iaconi-Stewart: I took an architecture class in high school and we used manila folder to make Massing Models, which are rough 3D sketches of sorts that you make when you’re testing a building idea. I loved the versatility of the material. It’s strong enough if engineered properly, but also malleable enough to shape into a variety of parts. I suppose the same could be said for the aluminum that they use in real life. It really comes down to the versatility and the fact that they have a good “feel.” They’re easy to work with, and, I suppose, somewhat unconventional for model making.

This is a pretty serious project for you. Why are you so committed to this??

Iaconi-Stewart: There’s something really satisfying about looking at a bunch of pictures, planning a component out, designing it, and then assembling it accurately. I know most people probably wouldn’t relate, but there’s a certain thrill to seeing something come together exactly as you intended. At this point, there’s no way I’m leaving the model unfinished. The end is in sight.

What do you think it will feel like to finish?

Iaconi-Stewart: I have no idea, but it will probably be a pretty surreal feeling because this has been such a constant over the past several years.

When you began, did you have any idea what you were getting yourself into?

Iaconi-Stewart: Absolutely not. At one point, I actually got pretty close to finishing, but it was a much simpler model back then.

If you could go back and talk to the pre-model you, what would you say to yourself?

Iaconi-Stewart: I’d probably tell myself to be more precise and design everything on the computer, which would have saved me a lot of time. Either that or don’t start at all.

When you’re done, I would have to assume there will be a bit of a letdown. What will you do next with all the available time?

Iaconi-Stewart: I’m not sure, but I’m looking at the next venture in life, and as much as I love to make models, I’m not sure I’d be able to make them day in and day out. I’m excited to see where this leads but I don’t have my heart set on anything right now.

What will you do with the model when it’s done?

Iaconi-Stewart: I have no idea, though many people have suggested having it in some kind of museum. The Museum of Flight (in Seattle), perhaps? I’d love to have it somewhere where people can see it.

You must have had people say you’re a bit nuts to put so much time/energy into something like this. What’s your response to that?

Iaconi-Stewart: I’d agree. It’s not something that I’d expect most people to do or even to understand. But hey, when it’s not driving me crazy, it’s making me happy, so I’m fine with that.

So, an A380 next?

Iaconi-Stewart: It’s a pretty ugly plane, as much as I love how big it is. Not to mention the whole starting another model aspect. So, probably not.

Most importantly, how many manila folders have you used?

Iaconi-Stewart: It’s really hard to say, but easily hundreds. Probably not a thousand though. Lately, I’ve managed to pack more parts onto a single page. It’s a pretty heavy model, not that that says much about the number of folders, but there’s a lot of paper involved.

So you’re probably the world’s master at using an X-acto knife?

Iaconi-Stewart: Who knows? Maybe. It’s second nature at this point.

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