Growing up with six brothers, John Collins got really good at folding paper planes.
“Anything you can beat your siblings at is good,” he says.
But he didn’t just beat his siblings. In 2012, Collins set the world record for the farthest flight by a paper aircraft. Thrown by football player Joe Ayoob, the glider, named “Suzanne,” after Collins’ wife, flew 226 feet, 10 inches (69.14 meters) before gracefully making its way into history.
Collins, a former television producer and director, left his TV career behind three years ago in order to focus full-time on using his planes to educate audiences.
He studied origami and aerodynamics and put those skills to use designing spectacular planes that perform tricks. He came up with a design for a boomerang plane, which loops through the air and returns to the launcher. Also notable is his bat plane, which eerily flaps its wings as it glides through the air.
Collins, who’s also known as the Paper Airplane Guy, has just published his fourth book about folding paper flyers. He also regularly performs demonstrations for students—from kindergarten to college—using his planes to teach them about science.
“I bring paper airplanes into classrooms and start talking about complicated ideas involved with fluid dynamics and using paper airplanes to explain it,” says Collins, who somehow makes terms like “dihedral angle” sound accessible to kids.
“If you can have a group of middle schoolers and high schoolers that don’t look at their phones for 45 minutes while you’re doing a demonstration, you’ve hit success,” he says.