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Up in the air

Students win Aviation Design Challenge

By Angie Landsverk

Four area students will apply what they learned during a design challenge when they build an airplane over the course of two weeks.

Derrick Cleaves, Logan Feltz, Austin Krause and Natasha Stemwedel will leave Sunday, June 19 on an all-expense paid trip to Glasair Aviation in Arlington, Washington.

From June 20 to July 1, they will build a Glasair Sportsman airplane.

Accompanying them will be Mike Hansen, who is a science teacher at Weyauwega-Fremont High School, and Jerry Graf, a founder of a local youth aviation learning program called Aviators by Design.

The group will make the trip as the grand prize winner of the fourth General Aviation Manufacturers Association/Build A Plane Aviation Design Challenge.

The nationwide Aviation Design Challenge promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) knowledge among U.S. high school students.

The W-F Design Team competed with 75 high schools and designed its airplane using X-Plane simulator software.

The base plane the students modified was a Cessna 172.

Their winning entry featured a redesigned teardrop fuselage, modified wings, the addition of a small T-tail and increased horsepower.

The team added counter-rotating three-blade props that would feather at high altitude, making the airplane into a glider to descend at a high rate of speed to its destination and then use a parachute to help stop the plane when it landed.

“This is our third year doing this,” Hansen said. “Jerry asked if we could enter under Weyauwega-Fremont High School because Joe (Gruentzel) and I are the teacher representatives. We’re the educator representatives.”

Gruentzel is the technology education teacher at W-F High School.

Aviators by Design is a nonprofit organization which meets every other Tuesday night at Poppy’s Field, in the town of Royalton.

Incorporated in October of 2010, the program allows students interested in aviation to work together to build an aircraft.

Aviators by Design uses the Fly To Learn program, which teaches STEM concepts.

Numerous students from area high schools have been involved since the program began. Some of them are now in college.

Mike Long graduated from W-F High School two years ago and then spent the last two years mentoring the new students.

“He knows the software in and out,” Hansen said.

Long’s involvement in the program resulted in an aviation-related career choice for him, and he is now a graduate of Fox Valley Technical College.

“He was one of the first kids who got us in the contest,” Hansen said. “Mike and some of the other kids in the first group our first year came up with the idea to get to a certain altitude and glide.”

Gruentzel said the flight simulator the students worked with is quite advanced.

“You can change the shape of the fuselage. The plane they ended up with versus what they started with look nothing alike.”

The students worked on their own and then brought their ideas together as a team for the challenge.

Hansen said most of the students who have been involved in the overall program are from Weyauwega-Fremont and New London high schools.

In addition to the four students who are going to Washington, Johnathan Heuer and Alex Willner were also part of the team.

Gruentzel said the number of students involved fluctuates.

He describes it as a club, and W-F students have been part of it since 2013.

Feltz just graduated from W-F High School.

He became involved in Aviators by Design during his first year of high school.

“Mr. Hansen asked if I wanted to come and build a plane. It seemed interesting,” Feltz said. “From then on, I went. It was a great experience building a plane.”

Krause learned about the program last fall after asking Gruentzel during W-F High School’s parent/teacher conferences whether there were any aviation-related opportunities in or outside of school.

Krause just completed his freshman year at W-F High School.

Being involved in building a plane through Aviators by Design, winning a design challenge and now going on a trip to build another plane will increase his knowledge, he said.

Stemwedel is also a student at W-F High School.

Hansen asked her if she was interested in planes when she was a freshman in high school.

“I just tagged along, and it was fun, so I stuck with it,” she said.

Stemwedel will be a junior in the fall and plans to continue being part of it.

Cleaves just finished his freshman year at Waupaca High School.

He learned about the program from his father, after one of his co-workers had a son in the program.

“It’s pretty interesting the way it all goes together,” Cleaves said.

Working on a plane and the design challenge are two separate things.

Aviators by Design has been working on the same plane since the program began and is getting closer to completing that project.

The students were amazed they won the design challenge and are excited about traveling to Glasair Aviation to build a plane.

“By the end of the two weeks, we should be able to fly the plane we built,” Feltz said. “It’s interesting being able to actually build a plane. It’s hands-on learning. We work with people who have done it. Being able to learn the Fly To Learn curriculum and how to modify a plane and applying that knowledge to a real plane is a great learning experience that Mr. Hansen got me involved in. It’s a great opportunity for all of us to go on the trip.”

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