Hamburg Flyers R/C Club Supports Scranton Middle School Science Olympiad Team

By Jim Young

A few years ago my son and daughter joined the Science Olympiad team at Scranton Middle School in Brighton Michigan.  In Science Olympiad schools field a team of up to 15 students.  These students compete in pairs in 23 events ranging from anatomy to physics.  For each event there is a specification sheet detailing the parameters of the event and how it will be scored.  Because of the broad scope of Science Olympiad, the parents play a key role in coaching the various events.

For the last two years, one of the events has been “Elastic Launch Glider” and it is sponsored by the AMA.  The AMA has produced some nice videos on building and trimming these types of gliders. The event requires the students to build a small glider that is launched with an elastic band.  The specifications change each year, but typically they specify minimum weight, maximum wing span, minimum length, and construction materials.  The kids get five minutes to log up to 5 official timed flights, with the top three flight times added together for their score. Having built and flown R/C models for years, how hard could it be to teach a couple of kids to build and fly a glider?

Since we only had a few months to prepare for the first competition, the kids and I decided to start with a kit.  We found a simple, proven design from Chuck Markos, but we are a new team and had very limited funds.  Being a member of the Hamburg Flyers R/C Club (a 501c(3) organization), I made a pitch at the next club meeting asking them to help us buy a few kits for the team.  I was overwhelmed by the positive response and level of support the club offered.  We ordered the kits and scheduled some build sessions to put them together..

glider3 glider1

The kids on the team had never picked up hobby knife, much less glued two pieces of balsa together.  I was glad to only be working with two or three kids at a time.  We started with the basics learning how to handle knifes and the different types of glue.  My scrap box got picked through and the kids quickly learned how to work with balsa and not glue their fingers together.  We primarily used CA glues due to the time limitations we had (and the kid’s attention spans).  While these gliders appear simple, like another plane they need to be put together straight and true.  We devised several jigs beyond what was included with the kits to help the kids with construction.  While the kids built, we talked about lift, drag, and center of gravity.

With a couple of gliders completed, we got permission to use the school gym before school.  The kids practiced one day a week from 7:00am to 7:40am when the school bell rang and I went off to work.  We all started to learn the intricacies of balsa gliders.  It was a lot of fun working with the kids and figuring out how to harness each of their talents and pushing them out of their comfort zone occasionally.  The kids quickly learned how to adjust the gliders for different behaviors; porpoising meant the glider was tail heavy, stalling meant the tilt of the glider was too little on launch, etc… Every flight was recorded in a lab notebook that was shown to the judges at the competitions.   I tried to keep the practice sessions fun and pitted the kids against each other to see who could get the longest flight with a specific glider, and even brought in a Vapor to give them a try at R/C flight.  The hardest part for a parent or coach at Science Olympiad is that once the kids step up to the judges, they are on their own.  If an adult tries to tell them anything they can be disqualified.   So, we also practiced “5 minute drills”, so they would get a feel for how long they had to get in their official flights.

At the kid’s first invitational competition, they did great coming in 6th out of 27 teams.  When I went to the next Hamburg Flyers meeting and told the club how they did, the guys were so proud and immediately wanted to help more.  After every competition, the club got a report on how the kids did, how the gliders were holding up, and if they needed anything else.  It was like the sports report on the evening news.

Over the season, the kids repaired and built a lot of gliders.  They experimented with different wings, and developed their building skills.  They went through a lot of balsa and a few more kits, all courtesy of the Hamburg Flyers R/C Club.

It was really great working with the kids.  All of the kids wanted to be there and were always willing to put in extra effort to learn and prepare for competitions.  Over the last two years, the kids have earned quite a few medals leading up to placing 6th at the 2016 Michigan State Tournament.  All of the kids have new skills and knowledge.  I have a new appreciation for free flight modelers, and the club has one more thing to be proud of.  One of my students has started flying R/C, and who knows where this will lead.  Overall, working with the Scranton MS Science Olympiad team took a minimal time commitment, but the rewards were priceless.


The following was offered by Tom Sanders, member of the AMA Education Committee & National Science Olympiad Supervisor

The interaction between the AMA club, the Hamburg Flyers in Pennsylvania, and their local Science Olympiad (SO) team is an excellent example of how any club can make a positive connection in their community. It also demonstrates their worth in the education environment. How often have we heard the over-used the term win-win? This experience shows a true win-win for all involved and certainly an example for all AMA clubs to be made aware.

With the mentoring from this AMA club, these SO students learned that both the science of aeronautics and following the scientific process can actually be quite fun! Science Olympiad’s Elastic Launch Glider (ELG) event can only mastered successfully by students understanding indoor glider design and their trim flight process. This was provided by the Hamburg Flyers RC Club and was complimentary to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) principles.

Their influence proved successful for this SO team. It confirmed the team members had learned some worthwhile lessons from their AMA mentors. These lessons included skills in glider design, construction and assembly, understanding cause and effect theories, the need to follow a scientific process, time management and the attitude that you just don’t quit. The success of this SO team in competition is demonstrated by their winning medals in this event!

Certainly for the Hamburg Flyers have also won. The SO team’s success is shown by their coach’s admiration for the club’s commitment. This club’s relationship with coaches, parents and school administration can all be leveraged into the future.  Over time any AMA club can develop a symbiotic relationship with their local Science Olympiad teams. Let me add that there are a number of events that AMA clubs can be mentors. The flying events are a given but certainly other events need mentoring as well. These involve research in structural design and how to hone construction skills. The events include the Bridge Building events, Mission Possible, Wheeled Vehicle and the various robot events (radio and servo action skills!) Any AMA club can provide the needed expertise in these facets.

This is what win-win means. Any local SO team can receive valuable mentoring in many areas from an AMA club. In so doing any local AMA club can earn loyal support in their own community. This can be leveraged into new possibilities like flying site assistance and/or possible growth in club membership. Considering that there are about 10,000 Science Olympiad teams, there should be ample opportunities around our country for other AMA clubs to get involved.

The most important aspects, though, are that the local AMA club has earned new respectability in their community and they can enjoy the pride of positively influencing their community’s education experience. My bet is that there was some flying fun enjoyed along the way and that simply adds an infectious charm with any AMA Club.

Good Job Everyone!


Tom Sanders


One comment

  1. Thanks for sharing the valued information, good luck to the team members and best wishes to the mentors and trainers for proving their skillful presence to teach students for the competition. Congratulations on achieving success, and wish that, you guys win all the future tournaments. Keep sharing such valuable insights.

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