A boomerang is a curved piece of wood used as a weapon and for sport - it can be thrown and return to the thrower.
Boomerangs come in many shapes and sizes depending on their geographic or tribal origins and intended function. The most recognizable type is the returning boomerang, which is a throwing stick that travels in a elliptical path and returns to its point of origin when thrown correctly. Although non-returning boomerangs (throw sticks or kylies) were used as weapons, returning boomerangs have been used primarily for leisure or recreation. Returning boomerangs were also used as decoy birds of prey, thrown above long grass in order to frighten game birds into flight and into waiting nets. Modern returning boomerangs can be almost any size or shape and are made from a variety of materials.
Historical evidence also points to the use of non-returning boomerangs by the ancient Egyptians, Native Americans of California and Arizona, and inhabitants of southern India for killing birds and rabbits. Indeed, some boomerangs were not thrown at all, but were used in hand-to-hand combat by Indigenous Australians.
Boomerangs can be variously used as hunting weapons, percussive musical instruments, battle clubs, fire-starters, decoys for hunting waterfowl, and as recreational play toys. The smallest boomerang may be less than 10 cm from tip-to-tip, and the largest over 2 meters in length. Tribal boomerangs may be inscribed and/or painted with designs meaningful to its maker. Most boomerangs seen today are of the tourist or competition sort, and are almost invariably of the returning type.
The origin of the term is uncertain, and many researchers have different theories on how the word entered the English vocabulary. The boomerang was first encountered by western people at Farm Cove (Port Jackson), Australia, in December 1804 where its use as a weapon was witnessed during a tribal skirmish.
The oldest Australian Aboriginal boomerangs are ten thousand years old, but older hunting sticks have been discovered in Europe, where they seem to have formed part of the stone age arsenal of weapons. One boomerang that was discovered in a cave in the Carpathian Mountains in Poland was made of mammoth's tusk and is believed, based on AMS dating of objects found with it, to be about 30,000 years old. King Tutankhamen, the famous Pharaoh of ancient Egypt, who died over 3,000 years ago, owned a collection of boomerangs of both the straight flying (hunting) and returning variety.
No one knows for sure how the returning boomerang was first invented, but some modern boomerang makers speculate that it developed from the flattened throwing stick, still used by the Australian Aborigines and some other tribal people around the world, including the Navajo Indians in America. A hunting boomerang is delicately balanced and much harder to make than a returning one. Probably, the curving flight characteristic of returning boomerangs was first noticed by stone age hunters trying to "tune" their throwing sticks to fly straight. In 1909 the Ngarrindjeri inventor David Unaipon patented an invention for a rotary wing aircraft based on his study of boomerang aerodynamics.
Today, boomerangs are mostly used as sporting items. There are different types of throwing contests: accuracy of return; Aussie round; trick catch; maximum time aloft; fast catch; and endurance (see below). The modern sport boomerang (often referred to as a 'boom' or 'rang'), is made of Finnish birch plywood, hardwood, plastic or composite materials and comes in many different shapes and colours. Most sport boomerangs typically weigh less than 100 grams, with MTA boomerangs (boomerangs used for the maximum time aloft event) often under 25 grams.
In 2008, Japanese astronaut Takao Doi verified that boomerangs also function in zero gravity as they do on Earth. He repeated the same experiment that German Astronaut Ulf Meerbold performed aboard Spacelab in 1992 and French Astronaut Jean-François Clervoy later performed aboard MIR in 1997.
It is believed that the shape and elliptical flight path of the returning boomerang makes it useful for hunting. Noise generated by the movement of the boomerang through the air, and, by a skilled thrower, lightly clipping leaves of a tree whose branches house birds, would help scare the birds towards the thrower. This was used to frighten flocks or groups of birds into nets that were usually strung up between trees or thrown by hidden hunters.
Boomerangs (termed "throwsticks") for hunting larger prey, such as kangaroo, were used for small prey as well. These throwsticks fly in a nearly straight path when thrown horizontally and are heavy enough to take down a kangaroo on impact to the legs or knees. For hunting emu, the throwstick is thrown toward the neck, attempting to break it .
It has been documented that Western Victorian "aboriginals" used the returnable boomerang, in addition to hunting, as a means of communication over long distances. This visual communication is especially useful when winds or distance make impossible other well known methods of communication such as cooee.
Returning boomerangs consist of two or more arms or wings, connected at an angle. Each wing is shaped as an aerofoil, so air travels faster over one side of the wing than the other. This difference in air speed creates suction or lift along what is roughly a plane which intersects the aerofoil at a near right angle along the long axis of the wing.
A right-handed boomerang is thrown with an counter-clockwise spin causing a counter-clockwise flight (as seen from above). Conversely, a left-handed boomerang is constructed as a mirror image with the aerofoils' leading edges on the left side of the wings, as seen from above, causing it to produce lift when circling clockwise. Although appearing symmetrical from a plan view, the leading edges are on opposite edges of the wings (leading and trailing) so as to present the leading edges of the aerofoil to the wind when spinning.
In international competition, a world cup is held every second year, with teams from Germany and the United States dominating international competition. The individual World Champion title was won in 2000, 2002 and 2004 by Swiss thrower Manuel Schütz. In 2006, Fridolin Frost from Germany won the title, with Manuel Schütz finishing third.
Long distance boomerang throwers aim to have the boomerang go the furthest possible distance while returning close to the throwing point. In competition the boomerang must intersect an imaginary surface defined as an infinite vertical extrude of a 40 m large line centered on the thrower. Outside of competitions the definition is not so strict and the thrower is happy whenever he does not have to travel 50 m after the throw to recover the boomerang.
Kylie is one of the Aboriginal words for the hunting stick used in warfare and for hunting animals. Instead of following curved flight paths, kylies fly in straight lines from the throwers. They are typically much larger than boomerangs, and can travel very long distances; due to their size and hook shapes, they can cripple or kill an animal or human opponent. The word is perhaps an English corruption of a word meaning boomerang taken from one of the Western Desert languages, for example, the Warlpiri word karli.
The Magic Boomerang, an Australian children's drama series in the 1960s, where time stood still for the duration of its flight, whenever the boomerang was thrown by the child who owned it. In Mad Max 2 a feral kid uses a boomerang as a weapon. In The Legend of Zelda series, the main character, Link, uses a boomerang.
A batarang is a roughly bat-shaped throwing weapon used by the DC Comics superhero Batman. The name is a portmanteau of bat and boomerang, and was originally spelled baterang. Although they are named after boomerangs, batarangs have become more like shuriken in recent interpretations. They have since become a staple of Batman's arsenal, appearing in every major Batman television and movie adaptation to date. Recent interpretations of the Dark Knight finds additional motivation to use the batarang as a ranged attack alternative to firearms, which he rejects outright due to the circumstances of his parents' murder.
The throwing stick or throwing club is one of the first weapons used by early humans and cultures all around the world. In essence, it is a short stave or wooden club thrown as a projectile to hunt small game such as rabbits or waterfowl. In flight, it rotates rapidly cracking the target with one of the ends and either maiming or killing it. The difference between a throwing stick and a javelin is found in their shapes and lengths. A javelin is almost always a straight shaft with either a pointed tip or a spearhead attached to the front end. A throwing stick can be straight like a pointed wooden shaft or curved like the boomerang. Furthermore the throwing stick is a much shorter pole weapon than the javelin. However it became obsolete as slings and bows became more prevalent.
Maximum Time Aloft (MTA) is a type of boomerang competition involving specially engineered boomerangs. They are launched high, and enter a stable hover. In the official USBA (United States Boomerang Association) competition throwers get five throws, and the times of the best three attempts are scored. Normally, the catch must be made for the time to be counted. Internationally, the highest time from the five throws is the accepted means of scoring.
Currently the maximum time aloft for a boomerang throw that was successfully caught is 3 minutes and 49 seconds. The MTA100 record that is more commonly competed (i.e. the throw and catch must be within the same 100 metre diameter circle) is 1 minute and 44.87 seconds, by Eric Darnell in Portland, USA, on 21 September 1997.
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