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JPL Annual 2003 Invention Challenge Results Gallery
Entry 2
entry02-004 entry02-005    
Comments from Entry 2, 52, and 53

I have only been a contestant in the prior two years contests, but this year seemed like a much more difficult problem. In one sense it was easier, there was no power other than the catapult, and obviously, some sort of wing was needed. This being said, building a glider that would go the distance and make a right turn proved to be challenging. I made the problem even more challenging by trying to build a flying wing. I started with a Styrofoam glider and cut the wings down, glued them together and wrapped them in Mylar. A weight on the nose was necessary to balance the wing in flight and I tried adding small rudders to make it turn right. Depending on the wind direction, the best I could do was 15 or 20 feet from the target. I then thought maybe a larger wing would do better. I built another wing with an almost five foot wing span out of balsa wood covered with Mylar. The new wing did not do any better. It was difficult to get a wing to fly, let alone make a right turn. It seemed the only way to make either wing turn right, was to place weights on the right side. A small weight made a small right turn, a larger weight and the wing tipped and fell to the ground.

After many hours of building and testing the two wings, I decided to abandon the idea of a flying wing. It was now getting close to the contest date, and I needed a better entry. I decided to purchase some gliders from a hobby store for testing. All the gliders tested needed some additional weight in the nose to fly property. I could make the wooden gliders fly right by adjusting the wing and tail surfaces, but they were very sensitive to the wind and their flight was not consistently repeatable. I finally found a small Styrofoam glider that was designed to be launched with a big rubber band. All I did was add an additional penny in the nose and it consistently made a right turn with no further alterations. In testing, the best it did was about six feet from the target. I didn't think this would be good enough to win, but I had run out of time.

On the day of the contest I was pleasantly surprised to see so many schools competing and disappointed that there were so few JPL entries. Perhaps the JPL engineers knew something I didn't. Because of the limited number of JPL entries, Paul had asked me to enter the two flying wings in addition to the Styrofoam glider. The two wings flew as expected with unspectacular results. The little glider flew well, but did not do quite as well expected. The beauty of the little glider,is that it is a Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) solution. The only change was the addition of a second penny in the nose. It true COTS form, it performed reasonably well, but didn't win first place. It was inexpensive in terms of cost and time involved, and did win certificates for being both the smallest and lightest entry. I don't know anything I could have done to improve the designs I entered this year. They were just not competitive with the other entries.
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Jet Propulsion Laboratory National Aeronautics and Space Administration California Institute of Technology