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A typical wooden returning boomerang

A boomerang is a curved piece of wood used as a weapon and for sport. 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 Californiamarker and Arizonamarker, and inhabitants of southern Indiamarker 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.

David Collins listed "Wo-mur-rāng" as one of eight aboriginal "Names of clubs" in 1798.A 1790 anonymous manuscript on aboriginal languages of New South Wales reported "Boo-mer-rit" as "the Scimiter".

In 1822 it was described in detail and recorded as a "bou-mar-rang", in the language of the Turuwal people (a sub-group of the Dharug) of the George’s River near Port Jackson. The Turnawal used other words for their hunting sticks but used "boomerang" to refer to a returning throw-stick.They were also mistakenly referred to as a woomerang, in confusion with the spear-thrower woomera.


Distribution of boomerangs in Australia
Australian Aboriginal boomerangs
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 Mountainsmarker in Polandmarker 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 Egyptmarker, 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.

Modern sports boomerangs

Modern use

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 Finnishmarker 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, Japanesemarker 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.


Boomerangs for sale at the 2005 Melbourne Show
A boomerang is a rotating wing. Though it is not a requirement that the boomerang be in its traditional shape, it is usually flat. A falling boomerang starts spinning, and most then fall in a spiral.When the boomerang is thrown with high spin, the wings produce lift.Larger boomerangs are used in hunting, thus they drop on the ground after striking the target. Smaller ones are used in sport, and are the only boomerangs that return to the thrower. Because of its rapid spinning, a boomerang flies in a curve rather than a straight line. When thrown correctly, a boomerang returns to its starting point.

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.

These wings are set so that the lift created by each wing opposes the lift of the other, but at an angle such that the flight pattern is constantly shifted as the forces of lift, drag, rotational inertia etc. 'attempt' to reach equilibrium. In simple terms, this means that one side of the boomerang is different from the other. If both wings were identical, the boomerang would spin, but fly in a straight line.

Gyroscopic precession is what makes the boomerang return to the thrower when thrown correctly. This is also what makes the boomerang fly straight up into the air when thrown incorrectly. With the exception of long-distance boomerangs, they should not be thrown sidearm or like a Frisbee, but rather thrown with the long axis of the wings rotating in an almost-vertical plane. When throwing a returning boomerang correctly, it is important to follow the correct instructions to achieve a successful return.

Some boomerangs have turbulators—bumps or pits on the top surface that act to increase the lift as boundary layer transition activators (to keep attached turbulent flow instead of laminar separation).

Fast Catch boomerangs usually have three or more symmetrical wings (in the planform view), whereas a Long Distance boomerang is most often shaped similar to a question mark. Maximum Time Aloft boomerangs mostly have one wing considerably longer than the other. This feature, along with carefully executed bends and twists in the wings, help to set up an 'auto-rotation' effect to maximise the boomerang's hover-time in descending from the highest point in its flight.

Throwing technique

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.

Most sport boomerangs are in the range of about 2.5 to 4 ounces. The range on most is between 25 and 40 yards/metres. To throw, use treeless, large open spaces that are twice as large as the range of the boomerang. A right- or left-handed boomerang can be thrown with either hand, but the flight direction will depend upon the boomerang, not the thrower. Throwing a boomerang with the wrong hand requires a throwing motion that many throwers may find awkward.

For right-handed boomerangs, first establish the wind and launch direction by first facing into the wind, slowly turning your head left to right. When your temples feel equally cool on both sides of your head then you will be facing directly into the wind. Now, for the launch direction, turn between thirty to seventy degrees clockwise to your right, depending on wind speed (turn further for stronger winds).

Stand sideways with feet-apart, left foot forward, so as to point in the direction of flight. Hold the right (or left) wing tip, flat side down, using the thumb on top and one to three fingers below. Tilt the boomerang upright at a ten to thirty degree angle from vertical. Cock the boomerang back so that the central bend touches your forearm to allow adequate spin. Aim, by pointing with your left arm, at, or just above, the horizon.

Sharply step forward with the left foot, following through with your right arm and leg as you launch the boomerang in a similar way to throwing a spear or ball. Launch crisply using a whip-like flick with your index finger, at the end of the throw, so as to cause counter-clockwise spin (seen from above). The strength of throw and spin must be varied according to the speed of the wind — the stronger the wind, the less power is required to provide lift enough to make the return journey. In other words, the stronger the wind, the softer you throw.

The boomerang initially should curve around to the left, climb gently, level out in mid-flight, arc around and descend slowly, and then finish by popping up slightly, hovering, then stalling near the thrower. Ideally, it should hover momentarily, to allow the catcher to clamp their hands shut decisively and firmly on the horizontal boomerang from above and below, sandwiching the centre between the catcher's hands. In other words, avoid painful wing strikes to the hand by not sticking fingers directly into the edge of the fast-spinning wing rotor.

Boomerangs shouldn't be thrown level like a flying disc, as it will turn upwards abruptly in the direction of the top of its aerofoils, so if that direction happens to be up rather than to the side it may soar up so high and quickly down again so that the subsequent landing may cause damage to the boomerang and/or whatever it might land on!

Always stay safe by ensuring that your throwing space is empty of people and other obstructions to avoid injury and damage.

Wind speed and direction are very important for a successful throw. A right-handed boomerang is thrown with the wind on one's left cheek. The angle to the wind depends on the boomerang, but starting with a 45 degree angle is recommended. Depending on where the boomerang lands, this angle can be modified so that a closer return is achieved. For example, if the boomerang lands too far on the left, turn to throw more to the right of the wind the next time. If the return goes over one's head, then throw softer. If it falls short, then throw harder. As for the wind speed, a light wind of three to five miles an hour is ideal. If the wind is strong enough to fly a kite, then that's usually too strong for boomerangs.

Throwers can modify various actions to achieve a closer return according to the conditions; the throw angle to the wind, the tilt, the power, the spin, and the inclination can be adjusted to vary the return point so the catch point can be perfected. Facing into the wind, then turning the head slightly to either side to check for the cooling effect, allows one to assess the wind direction, and thus the throwing direction, more accurately. For consistency, return to the same throw point and then use a background target object on the horizon to throw in the same direction relative to the wind each time.

Competitions and records

In international competition, a world cup is held every second year, with teams from Germanymarker and the United Statesmarker 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.

Competition disciplines

Modern boomerang tournaments usually involve some or all of the events listed below In all disciplines the boomerang must travel at least 20 meters from the thrower. Throwing takes place individually. The thrower stands at the centre of concentric rings marked on an open field.
  • Aussie Round: considered by many to be the ultimate test of boomeranging skills. The boomerang should ideally cross the 50 meter circle and come right back to the centre. Each thrower has five attempts. Points are awarded for distance, accuracy and the catch.
  • Accuracy: points are awarded according to how close the boomerang lands to the centre of the rings. The thrower must not touch the boomerang after it has been thrown. Each thrower has five attempts. In major competitions there are two accuracy disciplines: Accuracy 100 and Accuracy 50
  • Endurance: points are awarded for the number of catches achieved in 5 minutes.
  • Fast Catch: the time taken to throw and catch the boomerang five times. The winner has the fastest timed catches.
  • Trick Catch/Doubling: points are awarded for trick catches behind the back, between the feet, etc. In Doubling the thrower has to throw two boomerangs at the same time and catch them in sequence in a special way.
  • Consecutive Catch: points are awarded for the number of catches achieved before the boomerang is dropped. The event is not timed.
  • MTA 100 (Maximal Time Aloft, field size: 100 metres): points are awarded for the length of time spent by the boomerang in the air. The field is normally a circle measuring 100 metres. An alternative to this discipline, without the 100 metre restriction is called MTA unlimited.
  • Long Distance: the boomerang is thrown from the middle point of a 40 metre baseline. The furthest distance travelled by the boomerang away from the baseline is measured. On returning the boomerang must cross the baseline again but does not have to be caught. A special section is dedicated to LD below.
  • Juggling: as with Consecutive Catch, only with two boomerangs. At any given time one boomerang must be in the air.

There are many other boomerang disciplines, many played just for fun, but most of these are not considered official competition events.

World records

(May 2008)
Discipline Result Name Year Tournament
Accuracy 100 99 points Alex Opri (D) 2007 Viareggio (ITA)
Accuracy 50 68 points Thomas Stehrenberger (CH) 2001 Lausanne (CH)
Aussie Round 99 points Fridolin Frost (D) 2007 Viareggio (ITA)
Endurance 81 catches Manuel Schütz (CH) 2005 Milano (I)
Fast Catch 14.60 s Adam Ruhf (USA) 1996 Emmaus (USA)
Trick Catch/Doubling 390 points Manuel Schütz (CH) 2004 Milano (I)
Consecutive Catch 1297 catches Manuel Schütz (CH) 2005 Aalen (D)
MTA 100 104.87 s Eric Darnell (USA) 1997 Portland (USA)
MTA unlimited 229.82 s Betsylew Miale-Gix (USA) 2008 Tucson (USA)
Long Distance 238 m Manuel Schütz (CH) 1999 Kloten (CH)
Non-discipline record: Smallest Boomerang: Sadir Kattan of Australia in 1997 with 48 mm [1.8 in] long and 45 mm [1.77 in] wide. This tiny boomerang flew the required 20 metres, returning to the accuracy circles on 22 March 1997 at the Australian National Championships.

Long distance boomerangs

Long distance boomerang throwers aim to have the boomerang go the furthest possible 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 centred 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.

General properties

Long distance boomerangs are optimised to have minimal drag while still having enough lift to fly and return. For this reason they have a very narrow throwing window which discourages many beginners from continuing with this discipline. For the same reason, the quality of manufactured long distance boomerangs is often non-deterministic.

Today's long distance boomerangs have almost all an S or ? shape and have all a profile on both sides (the profile on the bottom side is sometimes called an undercut). This is to minimise drag and lower the lift. Lift must be low because the boomerang is thrown with almost total layover (flat). Long distance boomerangs are most frequently made of composite material, mainly glass fiber epoxy composites.

Flight path

The projection of the flight path of long distance boomerang on the ground resembles a water drop. For older types of long distance boomerangs (all types of so called big hooks), the first and last third of the flight path are very low while the middle third is a fast climbing followed by a fast descent. Nowadays boomerangs are made in a way that their whole flight path is almost planar with a constant climbing during the first half of the trajectory and then a rather constant descent during the second half.

From theoretical point of view, long distance boomerangs are interesting also for the following reason: for achieving a different behaviour during different flight phases, the ratio of the rotation frequency to the forward velocity has a U shaped function, i.e. its derivate crosses 0. Practically it means that the boomerang being at the furthest point has a very low forward velocity. The kinetic energy of the forward component is then stored in the potential energy. This is not true for other types of boomerangs where the loss of kinetic energy is non-reversible (the MTAs also store kinetic energy in potential energy during the first half of the flight but then the potential energy is lost directly by the drag).

Interest in the discipline

Long distance boomerang throwing had been considered as the ultimate level of competition in the 20th century, but with new century, changes in materials and techniques allowed throws of 100 m to become common, and interest in this category declined. The following explain the evolution:
  • Throwing technique: The throwing technique is slightly different from other events, and less natural, as the boomerang must be thrown almost horizontal, but aimed high, yet with maximal power.
  • Deceiving exercising: Because of the extra effort required to optimize flight distance, long distance boomerangs are more difficult to make or acquire. On the other hand, they are easy to lose because at 100 m, good vision is needed to follow the flight. Further, sometimes the boomerang does not make the expected turn, and can continue away from the thrower. Not all fields are large, flat and empty enough to allow exercising, making recovery even more difficult.
  • Put apart in tournaments: The large area needed, safety reasons and other difficulties usually require the event to be scheduled late in the tournament, often to a Monday, which limits participation.

On the other hand, the long distance throwers, being very few compared to other disciplines, benefit from a family-like spirit present at LD events.

Related terms

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.

Use in media

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.

See also


External links

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