Braden River High School students prepare to take flight

eearl@bradenton.comApril 7, 2013 

BRADENTON -- After taking first place in the high school division at the Technology Student Association conference in March, Braden River High School has been moving full throttle to take to the skies with its latest project.

Engineering students in Gil Burlew's class are making small planes that can reach speeds of 90 mph.

The remote-control planes, nothing more than a set of wings, are simply designed and constructed from foam, vinyl, plywood and drawer liners.

Students only took one day to build the aircraft after working on the design.

The zebra-striped wings, held together with hot glue and tape, are capable of reaching high speeds without falling apart, students

Ronnie Perrault and Marisa Turner said.

"They have vertical stabilizers and metal rods to control the movements and help stabilize them," Perrault said. "And, if they do crash, they are easy to repair."

Students must take working with objects that can fly that fast seriously.

"Because the planes move so fast, you have to be able to have total control when flying them," said Burlew.

Students practiced flying the planes on a computer simulator to gain confidence in the controls before flying their creations take off for real at Braden River High School's flight day.

The flight day date has yet to be announced but the class is anticipating the arrival of the airplane motors so they can perform test runs. Burlew is ordering high-speed wireless electric motors through the Radio Controls Club, a Mulberry nonprofit club dedicated to model aircraft. The battery-operated motors cost $17 apiece.

Burlew said his students have learned through engineering and mathematics to design, create, build, test and modify a product.

"I am impressed with everything they've done." Burlew said. "Our philosophy is hands-on, minds-on."

The planes have no landing gear. Like NASA's space shuttles, they are capable of safely gliding to earth, Burlew said.

The students followed principles used in the engineering of commercial aircraft. Movements are controlled by elevons, which adjust the surface area atop the planes to make them turn, ascend and descend.

"The principles behind flight are lift, gravity, thrust and drag, which slows the craft down," Burlew said.

Burlew also showed how the elevons can make the planes do barrel rolls, quick upward pitches and nose dives.

Most students in Burlew's class are so eager they spend their lunch periods working on the planes. Many students hope to take to the skies in an actual plane some day.

Junior Ryan Calhoun is working on his pilot's license and helping build a full flight simulator complete with a cockpit with controls, monitors and foot pedals, for the students. The simulator will have a gaming chair the class is beta-testing for a company. The chair vibrates and moves like a seat in a real cockpit.

Burlew's students aren't the only ones looking forward to flight day, which will also include a variety of innovative kites, Frisbees and other flying objects.

Students in engineering teacher David Sheppard's class are making catapults capable of launching an egg 75 feet in protective containers that could keep the egg from breaking during its flight.

"Students are having fun while learning about complex engineering and math principles," Sheppard said.

The school is able to offer flight day -- even though the district doesn't have any money for such projects -- because the students do so much of the work such as helping build the flight simulator. Materials used for this and other TSA projects are recovered or donated, Burlew said.

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