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Glider shootoff reinforces Physics of Flight lessons

Wauwatosa West High School aerospace engineering teacher Todd DeZeeuw assists senior Austin Seybold in launching a glider with a rubber band in the school’s gym Friday.

Wauwatosa West High School aerospace engineering teacher Todd DeZeeuw assists senior Austin Seybold in launching a glider with a rubber band in the school’s gym Friday. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Dec. 18, 2013

The Wauwatosa West High School gym was turned into a makeshift launching pad for balsa wood gliders Friday.

Students in Todd DeZeeuw's aerospace engineering course took on the role of engineer as they designed their gliders, and later they tested their creations against each other to see which glider would fly the farthest and straightest.

The Physics of Flight program is just one aspect of the course, which is in its second year at the school. Before the year is out, students will have fired rockets, designed robots, built wind turbines and launched gliders.

The glider wings were all cut from a single, three-foot-long piece of balsa wood. Despite their small size, an overwhelming majority of them flew more than 50 feet.

All about the math

DeZeeuw's students had to sit at the drawing board, calculating, designing and planning before they got into any of the fun stuff.

The students learned to determine the coefficient of lift using a mathematical formula that calculates lift, drag, velocity and air density. They also designed foam wings and put them through a wind tunnel test before building their gliders.

Every step from early design to flight was recorded in their engineer logbooks, which DeZeeuw said helped students understand the thought process used by professional engineers.

Just like with the rockets the students launched earlier this year, the designing was done via computer. When all the calculations, journal entries and design work were finished, however, it was time to get building.

The fun stuff

When it came to the nitty-gritty work of putting the gliders together, the students took to the work like a bird to flight.

Before the bell starting class would ring, DeZeeuw said, the students were in their desks, heads bent over wooden wings, fuselages and stabilizers.

"It's nice to see that kind of motivation and that engagement," he added.

For senior Tyus Stoltenburg, the class is practice for life outside high school. He's enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and hopes to earn a degree in aerospace engineering afterward.

He said he's been interested in airplanes ever since he saw the movie "Top Gun" when he was 2.

"Ever since I've seen that, I thought airplanes were crazy machines," he added. "They defy gravity. Not many things in this world are capable of defying a natural force."

Stoltenburg designed his glider after one the Civil Air Patrol, an Air Force auxiliary for students, uses.

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