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Competition Floats to Success

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

[The winning team of the 2007 High School Design Competition at KU, Burlington High School’s Thundercats]

It was a day of high-flying design. More than 200 students from high schools across the state and the Kansas City region were able to test their design skills at the 20th annual High School Design Competition on Oct. 30 at the University of Kansas School of Engineering.

This year’s competition asked teams of students to construct a helium-filled dirigible that could follow a 50-foot flight path carrying a small toy Jayhawk. As a result, the School of Engineering looked more like it New Year’s Eve than the day before Halloween. Dozens of helium filled balloons and their kin were floating or tethered throughout the Eaton Hall Atrium and Spahr Engineering Classroom.

[A team crams their dirigible into the size-testing box]

Teams could not use radio-controlled devices or compressed gas to power the movement of the dirigible. Moreover, the entire device had to fit in a 3-foot by 2-foot by 2-foot box. In the end, the Thundercats team of Burlington High School took home top honors with a time of 26.37 seconds.

The task proved challenging for the students who valiantly strove to find the correct balance of weight and thrust mechanism. Several devices gained altitude too quickly, making the dirigible prone to dodging drafts from the high-ceilinged atrium’s circulation vents. Other teams developed a sinking feeling as they watched their device make a disqualifying “crash landing” whose gentleness would have made NASA’s Apollo mission commanders envious. Each team had two opportunities to make the flight and most teams took advantage of the day’s schedule to fine-tune their device as they awaited their turn.

Awards also were presented for the best design as well as the best use of recycled materials. Creativity was on display as students reused a variety of items to craft their device. A wide range of objects was given a second life: trash bags, foil, polystyrene flower pots, magazine paper, cups, netting, chicken wire, pop cans, yarn, ribbon, small personal fans, wire, rubber bands and more.

[A dirigible shows promise at takeoff.]

Teams came from as far away as Liberal, Kan., in the far southwest corner of the state, and as nearby as Lawrence High School, four blocks south of the KU campus.


Overall Competition

1. Thundercats of Burlington High School, time of 26.37 seconds

2. LHS of Liberal High School

3. Spartans of Remington High School

Best Design

1. Goofy Goobers of Remington High School

2. Krunch Bunch of Lawrence High School

3. LHS of Liberal High School

[A team prepares for flight]

Best Use of Recycled Materials

1. Viking 1 of Seaman High School

2. Manhattan Launchers of Manhattan High School

3. Viking 4 of Seaman High School

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