The Amazing Work Of Local Origami Master Jayson Merrill
By Danny Garrett
When you consider the ancient Japanese art of origami, you may think of it as both meticulous and peaceful. The complex folds evoke the former quality, and the finished products — cranes, swans, roses, butterflies — evoke the latter.
If this is the tradition you hold to, you may be surprised to learn of Jayson Merrill’s creations that depart from the usual nature-based themes of origami, and instead enter into the militaristic. Specifically, this origami specialist creates representations of military aircraft, tanks and missiles from this traditional Asian artform.
Merrill became interested in this craft when he was in fourth grade in rural Pennsylvania. His science teacher, Mrs. Herbert, began an origami lesson in class one quarter. Precocious as he was, within two weeks he was teaching Herbert how to craft new origami forms. As he moved into his teen years, he started teaching origami classes and winning competition after competition.
The momentum hasn’t slowed. He’s published three books on his craft, and his upcoming book on origami, Stealth Aircraft, will hit shelves in 2019.
The military angle has worked in Merrill’s favor. His creations are famous not only for their subject matter, but also for their performance and aesthetics.
Technique drives performance for Merrill’s engineering masterpieces. The jet folds on a fuselage aid in the craft’s maneuverability. If the fuselage is moved forward, the manipulation creates more weight on the plane’s front. However, if the fuselage is moved in the opposite direction, this creates more drag.
In a similar vein, one of his craft’s landing gears can be manipulated for speed. Folding the gear forward will give the plane more speed; and folding the gear backward will provide the opposite effect.
One of the other key techniques is the locking mechanism. As Merrill notes, he can build a
“15 in 1” aircraft. It’s all about reinforcement. That includes but is not limited to reinforced tailfins and wings. With this support, according to Merrill, one can throw the craft “harder” without it “spinning out of control.” In other words, craft strength is key, especially when one is flying these creations in the South, with heat and humidity creating great resistance.
For Merrill’s work, it’s difficult to separate aesthetics from functionality. His fighter jets, tanks, missiles, carriers, anti-missile artillery, amphibious assault vehicles and afterburners stand out in their camouflaged beauty. His F-22, as he describes it, is “geometrically identical” to the actual F-22.
But if you only gaze at the aesthetics, you will miss much. For instance, you won’t know that Merrill’s origami tanks have turrets that turn or that his missiles can fly an amazing 240-300 ft., assuming perfect indoor conditions. Furthermore, his missiles, in display of their kinetic diversity, can generate their own lift and fly level, too.
With all of this success, Merrill has gotten the Guinness Book of World Records’ attention. The world record for paper aircraft flight distance is 226 feet. Guinness stipulates that a record flight can only be made without the craft “spinning more than 4 times.” Merrill’s well on his way to smashing this record. His expertise is a given. But his determination and stick-to-itiveness will one day put him over the world-record edge.
His humility helps as well. He’s not afraid to reach out to others for advice on how he can improve. He welcomes input from origami enthusiasts, engineers and the meteorological savvy about his artwork and flying conditions. Thus, you can feel free to contact him if you think you can offer any assistance. He’s open. He’s friendly.
The world record is indeed an important goal for him. But it’s vital to step back and survey all that he’s already accomplished. The best-selling books, the multitude of beautiful origami creations and the following of enthusiasts who create how-to flying videos online for his work. All these accomplishments attest to an impressive career that won’t be stuck in the past or present, but will have lasting effects.