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Guinness record holder for paper plane distance brings passion to Pittsburgh

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Thursday, April 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

John Collins never outgrew paper airplanes.

Collins, 52, an author and TV producer in Sausalito, Calif., who holds the Guinness World Record for paper aircraft distance, on Wednesday brought his passion to Pittsburgh.

“No one can handle a paper airplane without doing a science experiment. I love that about paper airplanes. There's science in every throw,” Collins said as he demonstrated his craft at Carnegie Mellon University's Steinbrenner Institute Environmental Expo.

Collins has proselytized his ideas about paper planes at science fairs and demonstrations from St. Louis to Singapore.

At Carnegie Mellon, an assortment of engineering students and professors gathered around Collins and waited patiently for an opportunity to take a test throw with the planes he created.

Collins studied origami for 10 years and used the ancient Japanese art of paper folding to enhance his planes. He penned his first paper airplane book, “The Gliding Flight,” in 1989 and his second, “Fantastic Flight,” in 2004.

The books quickly became cult favorites among paper airplane enthusiasts.

Collins' wife Suzanne, a professional organizer, patiently bore the burden of a living room frequently littered with his experiments.

After all, there are only so many ways a man can fold a standard sheet of paper and a 25- by 35-millimeter piece of tape — two items Guinness rules permit in competition.

It took three years of testing, during which Collins ran through three quarterbacks he recruited to throw planes, was ousted from NASA's Moffett Field and eventually took up testing at McClelland Air Force Base before the big day came.

On Feb. 26, 2012, arena football quarterback Joe Ayoob threw Collins' glider design 226 feet, 10 inches.

The feat formed the basis for his third book, “The New World Champion Paper Airplane Book.”

Collins said hewill pay $1,000 to anyone who can break his 226 foot 10 inch record using his plane under Guinness rules.

He is tweaking designs, with an eye toward beating the 27.9-second duration flight record for paper airplanes set in Tokyo in 2009.

“I'm always working on new models. I'm always folding,” Collins said.

Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or

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