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JPL Annual Invention Challenge - 2003 Rules
The JPL Annual Invention Challenge is ready for its sixth year. The title for this year's contest is the Wright Turn Glider Contest. The objective and rules are listed below. Questions related to this contest and entry forms should be directed to: Paul MacNeal at: work phone (818)354-7824, FAX (818)393-1156, M/S 157-500, located in Building 157-510, or e-mail to

Objective: Create a glider that, when propelled from the officially supplied launcher, flies through the air, makes a right-hand turn, and lands onto an "X" 12.2 meters [40 feet] away. The winner will be the contestant whose glider's first-touch is closest to the "X".


  1. The contest is open to all JPL employees, contractors, and immediate family members. Family members and friends are welcome to watch the contest, but must be cleared through the security office prior to arrival. Applications for JPL employees, contractors, and immediate family members entering the contest must be filled out and submitted to Paul MacNeal prior to midnight November 26, 2003. An entry form is included at the end of the rules. All entries will be time stamped by Paul MacNeal based upon the time received. Only the first 20 JPL/contractor entries will be permitted to compete. Five alternates will be accepted in case some entries withdraw prior to the competition.

  2. The contest is also open to teams of students from Southern California middle schools and high schools. School teams must submit their entry form (included at the end of the rules) to Paul MacNeal no earlier than September 15, 2003 and no later than midnight October 3, 2003. Student teams will be notified to verify their acceptance into the contest no later than October 10, 2003. All entries will be time stamped by Paul MacNeal based upon the time received. Questions regarding the entry forms can be directed to Rich Alvidrez (818)354-1214. Each school is allowed no more than three teams. Internal school competitions are encouraged to select the top three teams if necessary. Student teams will compete at a regional competition held on Saturday, November 15, 2003 at either the University of Southern California or California State University at Fullerton. Details of the regional competitions will be sent to all registered teams. Only the first 75 student team entries will be permitted to compete at the regional competitions. The top five winners of each regional competition will be invited to compete at the JPL contest held on Friday, December 5, 2003 (see Rule 3 below). In addition, the next closest ten entries between both regional competitions will be invited to compete at the JPL contest. All student teams that participate in the JPL contest must be cleared through the JPL security office prior to arrival.

  3. The contest date and time is Friday, December 5, 2003 between 11:30 AM and 1:00 PM. The contest is held at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109. The contest area is located north of the fountain area, in front of the Administration Building (Bldg. 180) steps. In the event of inclement weather (rain or high winds), the contest may be held indoors at JPL's vonKarman Auditorium or postponed. Contestants are encouraged to design their entry to tolerate light winds (under 5 knots).

  4. The glider must have the following characteristics:

    a) The glider is a self-contained flying vehicle that remains intact during flight. Parts that break off during landing are permissible but are not encouraged. If parts of the glider break away during the flight, the flight will be disqualified.

    b) The glider must contain a feature that adapts to the launch hook as shown in Figure 1 below to allow for a smooth launch. Any glider that alters or damages the launch "hook" shall be disqualified.

    c) The glider must have features to avoid getting caught in the "slot" in the launch ramp as shown in Figure 2. Wheels or skids must be positioned to avoid the "slot".

    d) The glider can be made from any materials. There are no restrictions on size or weight. The glider must capable of being launched on the launch ramp by the hook.

    e) Absolutely no power (thrust, lift, or stored energy that assists dynamic flight) may be supplied by any means other than that provided by the official launcher (see Rule 5 below).

    f) Absolutely no remote control devices of any kind may be used. Any devices that operate on the glider must be self-contained and may not provide any thrust to the glider.

    g) The glider must be capable of self-sustained flight in air with no links of any kind to the ground that provide lift, propulsion, or course guidance during the flight.

  5. The official launch device has the following characteristics:

    a) The official launcher consists of a tension spring, a launch platform, and a launch "hook".

    b) The tension spring is an 11" long tension spring with a 0.17 pound per inch spring rate. It is available from McMaster-Carr and is Part Number 9640K243 It will be stretched 30.0 inches from its final position. The estimated tension load in the spring at the start of the launch is 5.87 pounds. After launch, the final length of the spring is 11.25 inches. In the final position, the spring has a load of 0.77 pounds. In the completely relaxed state, the spring has a preload of 0.73 pounds. The spring has an outer diameter of 1.00 inches and a wire diameter of 0.062 inches. The mass of the spring is 170 grams.

    c) The launch platform has an overall surface size of 30.5 cm (12 inches) in width and 147 cm (58 inches) in length. The surface is hard and smooth and made from " thick composite board. A slot runs down the middle of the platform that is 6.35 mm (0.25 inches) wide and is 80 cm (31.5 inches) long. The end of the slot is located 30.5 cm (12 inches) from the end of the launch ramp. The launch ramp is angled at 5 degrees above horizontal. The height of the ramp at the point where the hook stops moving is 100 cm (39.4 inches) above the target. See Figures 2 and 3 for a description of the launch ramp setup.

    d) The launch hook is made from steel wire with a 3.4 mm [0.135 inch] diameter. It is available from McMaster-Carr and is Part Number 9594T14. Figure 1 shows the profile of the hook. The hook is screwed into a glide block mounted underneath the launch ramp. The mass of the hook and glide block is 35 2 grams.

    e) Complete plans for building the entire launch device are available as a pdf file (466 KB) here. The official launch device will be available for practice runs two weeks prior to the contests (both regional contests and the JPL contest) by reservation only. Details of the locations, dates, and times for practice runs will be made available to all entrants by October 31, 2003. Reservations for a twenty-minute practice time slot can be made. Priority for reservations is based on the entry number that is assigned at the time when the entry form is received.

    figure 1

    figure 2

    figure 3

  6. The target is located at a distance of 8.6 meters (28 feet 3 inches) in front of the position where the hook stops on the launch ramp and 8.6 meters (28 feet 3 inches) to the right of the position where the hook stops on the launch ramp for a total distance of 12.2 meters (40 feet) from the position where the hook stops on the launch ramp. The target is 100 cm (39.4 inches) below the position where the hook stops on the launch ramp. The target is a "+" sign wherein each leg is 3 cm wide and 20 cm long comprised of black plastic tape. Figure 4 shows the location of the target relative to the launch ramp.

    figure 4

  7. Each contestant shall have two opportunities to land their glider the closest to the target. The launches may not be consecutive depending on schedule limitations. The contestant will be given a five-minute warning prior to the start of each of their two launch windows. The contestant will be given 30 seconds to position their glider onto the ramp and launch hook. The official starter will pull the release pin from underneath the platform that will initiate the flight of the glider. Timers will time the duration of the flight to the nearest 0.02 seconds. The flight ends when the first part of the glider touches the ground. Official observers will carefully note where the glider first touches the ground (wheel, skid, or other feature) using a chalk mark as an indicator. The decision of the observers on the location of the chalk mark is final and is not subject to debate. The contestant will then be asked to quickly remove the glider from the contest area. After completion of both flight attempts, the contestant will be asked to place their entry in an area designated by contest officials for further judging and inspection for rule compliance.

  8. The distance between the target center and the glider first-touch point will be measured to the nearest 2 cm (0.75 inches). In case of a tie, the longer flight duration will be used as the tie-breaker. If the entries are still tied, then equal trophies will be awarded. Trophies will be divided into two categories: JPL employees/family/contractor entries and school team entries. Trophies for closest distance to the target will be given for first, second, and third place for each category at all contests (regional contests and the JPL contest). Certificates will be issued for the lightest, heaviest, smallest, largest, longest flight duration, most unusual, most artistic, and most creative designs.

Entry Form
(pdf file)

School Entry Form
(pdf file)

(You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader 3.0 or later installed on your computer to read these pdf files. The Adobe Acrobat Reader is available for free at the Adobe website.)

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