WMU News

Students ready glider to recreate Wright brothers' flight

March 14, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- On paper their plans look good. And it's that paper that will mean success or failure for a team of Western Michigan University students who will travel to a beach near Kitty Hawk, N.C., next month to test their wings and celebrate the centennial of flight.

Eight WMU paper science students are assembling a hang glider with a paper sail to compete against nine other colleges and universities April 5 in an event that is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the 100th anniversary celebration of the Wright brothers' first successful flight. Competing teams will gather at Nags Head, N.C., to hang glide from atop an 80-foot dune using gliders made primarily from recycled paper products.

"It's making the paper tear-resistant so that it doesn't come apart in flight that is the big issue," says the team's designated pilot Greg Smith, a senior paper engineering major from Battle Creek, Mich. "Moisture resistance will also be a factor."

Smith, who had no previous hang gliding experience, traveled to Nags Head over WMU's spring break earlier this month to learn the skills he'll need and earn certification as a glider pilot in order to serve as WMU's pilot in the Energy Challenge 2003 competition. He and two of his teammates will return to Nags Head April 3 with their faculty advisor, Dr. David Peterson, associate professor of paper and printing science and engineering.

Energy Challenge 2003 is an industrially focused competition that encourages students to design and build full-scale projects out of such paper products as corrugated paperboard or linerboard to develop technology and new uses for the nearly two billion tons of waste generated each year by the forest products industry. This year's event is sponsored by the Institute of Paper Science and Technology in Atlanta and by Kitty Hawk Kites Inc. of Nags Head, in addition to the DOE.

The teams are competing for a $15,000 first-place prize. Judging will be based on the glider's weight, material composition, conformance to size requirements, tear and tensile strength, moisture resistance, recycle content, aesthetics and novelty of design. The final segment of the competition involves flying the gliders from a dune. Each team will make three flights with the longest cumulative distance flown netting first place in that part of the competition.

In addition to WMU, schools scheduled to compete in Energy Challenge 2003 are the Georgia Institute of Technology, Savannah College of Art & Design, Spartan School of Aeronautics, the universities of Central Florida and Maine, and Miami, North Carolina State, North Carolina A &T State and Temple universities.

All eight members of WMU's team have been working since January on the project as part of a design class in the Department of Paper and Printing Science and Engineering. Each team received a start-up grant of $2,000 and a glider frame. WMU's team has been developing the paper they intend to use for the 191-square-foot sail by experimenting with different fibers and strength formulas. Faculty advisor Peterson says WMU's paper facilities should give his team a real edge.

"The fact that we are making our own paper is going to play a big role," says Peterson. "No one else is likely to do that, and that means they'll be working to catch up to us."

Peterson says the students will be making the sail out of brown, unbleached paper that is 90 percent recycled and 24 to 25 inches wide. They'll seam the strips together and may laminate the sail for strength and moisture resistance. The glider frame arrived on campus in late February and included a canvas sail so that the team could examine a more traditional sail set-up.

The WMU team will finish and attach its own paper sail during the week of March 17 and ship the completed glider to Nags Head the following week. Peterson and three members of the eight-person team will actually travel to North Carolina for the competition, which begins April 4, with a day of measurement and review of glider designs.

The event is part of the nation's First Flight Centennial Celebration, which commemorates Orville and Wilbur Wright's first successful powered flight Dec. 17, 1903. Western Michigan University also is celebrating its centennial this year.

WMU has offered paper and printing programs for more than 50 years. The paper program has its roots in a paper technology program that was established at the behest of industry and became the second of its kind in the nation. When the two disciplines combined, they became one of the University's first interdisciplinary programs, combining the fields of chemistry, paper technology, chemical engineering and applied sciences. Today, WMU is the only campus in the world with facilities to go from paper pulp to the printed page and then recycle the product. WMU's pilot plants do more than $1 million in industry research each year.

WMU's Energy Challenge 2003 team

Yanin Garcia of Clarkston, Mich., a senior majoring in paper engineering/environmental
Ben Hanson of Bark River, Mich., a senior paper engineering/process major
Ryan Lentini of Vicksburg, Mich., a senior paper engineering/process major
Ashley Morrill of Holland, Ohio, a senior paper engineering/process major
Melissa Rivard of Bay City, Mich., a junior paper engineering/process major
Greg Smith (pilot) of Battle Creek, Mich., a senior paper engineering/process major
Mike Treat of Rochester Hills, Mich., a senior paper engineering/process major
Ryan York of Fenton, Mich., a senior majoring in paper engineering/process

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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