Monday, March 29, 2010

A Paper Airplane Pilot

Due to technical difficulties, Mrs. Hillbilly Mom has been incommunicado for an eon. The #1 son was away at the state bowling tournament all weekend, and left Mrs. HM high and dry with her internet connection discombobulated. The following post was meant for Friday, March 26.


We took a smaller contingent to the community college science fair this year. What's up with kids these days? You can't even bribe them with bonus points anymore. About half of those who sent in their entries did not attend. It might have had something to do with the scheduling, which put the science fair on the same day as the district band contest held at a different community college.

Don't go pointing fingers at Mrs. Hillbilly Mom. She had nothing to do with the scheduling. That would be the host college. Seems there was something going on with the availability of the gym, and all the sponsors wanting to make sure the science fair was held on a Friday. If you think we had trouble getting students to enter this year, imagine what it would have been like if we told them it was going to be held on a Saturday. That plane wouldn't fly.

Speaking of planes, that was the #1 son's project this year. How force affects the flight of paper airplanes. Of course you can't just fling paper airplanes through the atmosphere willy nilly. How scientific would THAT be? You have to control the launch force and the angle and the direction and how long you hold it before you let go. Unless you do, there are too many variables affecting the flight. So my boy built himself a paper airplane launcher.

I must admit I was not a big fan of the project idea. I could not understand how he was going to build a launcher. He tried to describe it and sketch it for me, but I could not visualize it. He and NASA Engineer H holed up in the barn for two hours one Sunday, and VOILA! A paper airplane launcher was born! I could not believe how deceptively simple the process appeared. Of course, there were a few bugs to be worked out. Bungee cords were the method of propulsion, releasing a little wooden cart that looked like something out of the mine scene in an Indiana Jones movie. It ran along a metal garage door track, and slammed into a wooden panel, launching the paper airplane that was held in a V-shaped cradle of four screws mounted on the cart. Except that the friction was too much for the plane to sail smoothly off the cart, and the cart itself could not get up a good speed due to its mass and heavy metal wheels.

Hillbilly Mom to the rescue. I suggested shaving off some wood from the cart to make it lighter. #1 let it slip that just for fun, he had set the plane in the groove of the metal track and flicked it with his hand, and it sailed. Still not scientific, flicking the paper plane. So I suggested a wooden thingy mounted on the cart that would follow along the groove and shove the plane. #1 took a piece of scrap wood and attached that dealybob in short order. That was his first prototype. Which is a ridiculously redundant statement, because of course a prototype is the first one.

Anyhoo, he took it to school and tested it in the flight tunnel we commonly call The Hallway. It worked OK, but he brainstormed a new track set-up with less clunkiness and friction. Networker H got some parts from a salesman at work, and the final model was born. #1 used stronger, flat bungees instead of the little round bungees. He ran into trouble with no way to measure the force of the strongest set-up of four bungees. The best we could do was a fish scale, which only went to 28 pounds. In hindsight, a luggage scale or livestock scale would have been beneficial.

So #1 had to explain in his results that while he could calculate acceleration for the first two force trials, he could not do so for the strongest one, the one that proved his hypothesis that too much force provides too much lift, and makes the plane stall and plummet. He also forgot to set up his Zune that played a loop of his testing efforts. His excuse was that the judges started with him, and he wasn't ready because every time he left his display, he had to pick up the Zune and take it with him to prevent theft, and he forgot that it was in his pocket when the judges came. And also, he was a bit discombobulated because the safety committee had made him take the bugees off the rail thingamajig, because no projectiles were allowed. Oh, really. Half the projects there involved projectiles. Just ask the dude who had a golf club swinger.

The bottom line is...#1 won his category of High School Physics, and according to one of the judges, it was between him and the Behavioral Science winner for Best In Show. The other dude won, with a logbook of 365 days and a continuation of his last year's project. Not a real surprise, as this kid wins Best In Show every year. He is a senior, and no doubt won the scholarship that the college offers for science fair. #1 did not mind. He won his category and the $50 prize, and while Best In Show is an honor, it does not carry any more financial rewards.

Two of our middle school students also won 1st place in their categories. Last year we had more awards, but they were thirds and honorable mentions.

Since he began entering the science fair in 6th grade, #1's record stands at:

6th Grade-1st Place, Middle School Physics
7th Grade-1st Place, Middle School Physics
8th Grade-Honorable Mention, Middle School Engineering
9th Grade-1st Place, High School Physics

Not a bad showing for the young whippersnapper. This concludes the maternal bragging. I will try to post some pictures of the plane-launcher when #1 returns from the state bowling tournament with the photos and the knowledge.


Kathy's Klothesline said...

congrats to your #1 offspring ....

Hillbilly Mom said...

Thanks. He is quite the gadget-maker.