John Collins designed “Suzanne,” the paper airplane that set a new world record (226 feet, 10 inches!), and he’ll be sharing techniques at the East Bay Mini Maker Faire on Oct 18. He’s a creative designer, an avid tinkerer, and an enthusiastic designer.  Watch Conan O’Brien experience the extraordinary acrobatics of John’s planes, including his innovative “Sizzle” glider.

Designing, building, and throwing a paper airplane is pure Making, as Collins explains in his New World Champion Paper Airplane Book:

Every throw is an experiment. It’s a hobby that begs the paper pilot to understand ever more in order to excel. Hypothesis, experiment design, trial, and results—it’s all built into every plane and every throw. To play with a paper airplane is to dabble in science, whether you know it or not.

Here are excerpts from our recent exchange with John:

How did you get started making paper airplanes?

The truth is, I never stopped.  I’ve always loved paper airplanes and flight.  Just when I was starting to get into paper airplanes, two really amazing things happened.  The Smithsonian sponsored an international paper airplane contest and published a book with the winning designs.

And not too long after that, the inventors of the Klein-Fogleman wing were profiled on television with their paper airplane design.  It was a stall-proof paper airplane, one that might have application to full size planes.

These two events demonstrated the wide interest and possible fame and fortune attached to paper airplane making.  I’ve been hooked ever since. 

Have you seen any especially innovative or surprising designs?

I’m continually amazed by engineering prowess in the flight world.  Asymmetrical designs, like Burt Rutan’s Boomerang, are really intriguing.

The current wave of drones is fascinating.  Drones are the cutting edge of small scale flight.  That puts paper airplane sized aerodynamics front and center, so once again, what a paper pilot can learn or invent can have widespread application.

What makes a bad plane?

Well, I’ve had comments on my YouTube channel calling the world record plane a terrible design and a waste of time.

Generally, I find it’s not what makes a bad plane; it’s who.  Sloppy folding is bad, but it’s not the worst offense.  Assuming all the work is done once the plane is folded is the biggest mistake. 

One throw does not determine quality.  The Wright Brothers crashed 100% of the planes they built in the early days.  Until you get the hang of adjusting the paper airplane, you’ll see some awkward flights.

Treat your plane like an experimental aircraft.  Mess with it, over correct, junk it up, and just play with it.  Keep trying things to make it fly better.  There’s no telling what you’ll discover. 

Want to try some planes? Here John demonstrates how to build several planes, including a stunt model, the classic Dart, and the speedy Phoenix Blaster.

OR get your tickets to the Faire and come and learn in person from John!