When asked what made this year's contest different, Ryan Crompton grinned.
"They have to carry this," he said.
He reached into his jacket pocket to reveal what he meant: a small toy soldier.
This year's "Taking Flight Design Challenge" - a paper-plane contest - required participants to incorporate the payload of a small soldier.
Monday's competition was part of the University of Arizona's Engineers Week. It's a nationally observed event in its 60th year and meant to spotlight engineers' contributions to society.
UA students from several engineering clubs competed in the event, which involved designing and building paper airplanes. The students were given two pieces of paper and tools such as scissors, tape, paper clips and tape measures. While it may sound like a piece of cake to make a paper plane fly, designing it to fly the farthest is a bigger challenge.
This year, other challenges were added as well: Only one student was allowed to see the memo detailing the rules, while only two other group members were allowed to test designs. Windy weather conditions also tested students' design choices.
Students worked in timed intervals to design, build and test their planes, then competed against one another to see whose plane flew farthest by launching them from a bridge at the UA Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Building.
The competition was hosted by the UA chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, of which Crompton is chapter president.
While the group doesn't compete in its own event, Crompton said, he enjoys watching students from a various engineering disciplines draw conclusions under pressure about how to get the best design.
Jesus Valenzuela, who competed for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, said his team started with two plans in mind. However, upon starting its design, Valenzuela's team hit a snag: Members expected to receive 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper, the size of standard loose leaf. They were given irregularly-sized pieces of paper instead. His team later went on to change its plan.
Other teams used both pieces of paper to construct one plane: the UA chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society, rolled one piece into the plane's body and built wings around it. Team member Jonathan Gross explained why his group opted against the simple fold-and-fly design.
"Those work best at supersonic speeds," he said, smiling.
But the team's design had problems during the first test run. Group member Adam Rice had a good sense of humor as he and his teammates struggled to make last-minute fixes.
"It flies upside down well," Rice joked.
In its test run, Valenzuela's group had to quickly decide where to place the payload.
Members perservered to win the competition with a surprisingly simple design: a model similar to a basic folded childhood plane with a toy soldier attached to the plane's nose, which was twisted, giving it a torpedo-like quality when airborne. Valenzuela's explanation for the win came down to removing the bells and whistles.
"If simple doesn't work, then complicated definitely won't," he said.
Gross said he was disappointed over his team's loss, but remains optimistic.
"I'm a little disappointed," he said. "But there's always next year."
Victoria Blute is a NASA Space Grant Intern. E-mail her at email@example.com