The Explainer General
Since he was a boy, John Collins has been fascinated by paper airplanes. Who isn’t? Most of us have folded the familiar dart-shaped classroom airplane. Good fun. And it’s science.
Big and small aircraft depend on the same four principles: weight (of the craft), drag (wind resistance over the craft), lift (upward force from air passing over the craft’s flight surfaces), and thrust (what pushes the craft). A 747 Jumbo Jet and a paper airplane depend on the same forces.
Collins wanted to fold this aeroscience into paper. But how to build (fold) complex principles into something so small?
He found the ancient Japanese art of origami and used its sculptural tricks. He created paper aircraft that do astonishing things. One comes back in a horizontal circle, like a boomerang. Another flies up, turns over and comes back vertically. One actually flaps its wings as it glides slowly. To John, they’re all working science experiments: every flight leads to some knowledge and to new ideas for tweaking the aircraft so it flies better.
John Collins became “The Paper Airplane Guy.” (www.thepaperairplaneguy.com) He believes that scientific research happens everywhere, every day. He says, “It doesn’t take computers, lab coats, microscopes and the like. It takes a hunger to know. Science is just the structured way we find stuff out. The science you can do with a simple sheet of paper is no less important than what can be done with an electron microscope.”
On February 26, 2012, John and Joe Ayoob stood in a big, windless aircraft hangar with John’s best-so-far flyer, Suzanne. (He named it after his wife.) Joe was a professional football quarterback who learned to throw Suzanne hard but steady, not like a football but like a delicate piece of origami. Joe threw Suzanne up, up, and it dived down to fly – really fly – 226 feet and 10 inches, the Guinness World Record for distance thrown.
Now John wants paper airplanes to welcome young people into science. He’s starting a National Paper Airplane Contest with a big prize for anyone who throws
(www.kickstarter.com/projects/paperairplane/the-national-paper-airplane-contest) Suzanne farther than Joe. Or you could throw your own better, more aeronautically elegant paper airplane. It’s a simple, scientific task. Every paper airplane and every flight will be a new experiment, just as important as the Wright Brothers’ Kittyhawk flight. Science isn’t just geeks and labs; we’re all part of it.
When King Tut's tomb was opened, many newspapers reported that the phrase “Death Shall Come on Swift Wings to Him Who Disturbs the Peace of the King” had been inscribed next to the tomb. After that, strange things began to happen--at least according to the press. Was there a curse or not? Jim Whiting will take a look at it with you tomorrow.