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July 22, 2021: Science Olympiad Day at the Indoor Free Flight Nats

By Chuck Andraka

Wednesday, July 21, the National Free Flight Society (NFFS) leveraged its new relationship with Science Olympiad to host 18 students and 10 coaches from 10 middle schools and high schools, mostly from Michigan and Ohio, but also from as far as Austin. Science Olympiad is a scholastic science competition that includes an indoor flying event.

Starting bright and early, the students and coaches attended build technique seminars put on by NFFS members Brian Turnbull and Chuck Andraka. These sessions focused on basic and advanced techniques that can enhance the students' modeling experience.

Then the fun began! A few of the students chose to participate in the Nats events, entering Standard Catapult Gliders, getting to fly side by side with top US competitors. 

At noon, the students brought out their Wright Stuff rubber-powered planes from this past competition year and got to fly in the 1965 Nats venue. Some also built P-18s and flew those as well. While skill levels varied, the fun was top notch across the board! There were Wright Stuff planes in the air continuously from noon to 4 p.m., with several teams putting in last-minute flights with 1 minute to go in the session!

One team came in with a very badly damaged P-18, with at least 20 breaks in the wing. The damage occurred in the weather getting to the facility. While their initial reaction was dismay, we took it as an opportunity to teach repair skills. We demonstrated repairs on 2 or 3 breaks, and then guided the students as they effected repairs. There was hope! The wing began to take shape. A bit of carbon fiber (better, stronger, faster), and we began to hope for flight! After the first few trial flights, we set a goal of 1 minute. The kids already had big grins, yelling to their coach “It flew! It flew!”.

With some focused advice, with explanations of the whys, they quickly managed to eke out 1-minute flights. But everyone else was getting to the rafters. After some discussions of rubber, mass, trim, and all the interactions, the students learned to tie their own rubber and began to experiment with various loop lengths. Throughout the day, they improved about 7 seconds with each official flight, excited each time. On the last flight, they went for broke, reached near the rafters, and pulled out a 1:46—good for third place!

This is just one of the many success stories from the day. Times improved. Understanding improved. One dad is even more hooked than his student! There is talk of finding more events! Talk of starting their own flying events in the region! One student talking F1D! Parents, coaches, NFFS team members, and students with wide grins well into the evening!

And Thursday, July 22, we start again. Several of the students got excited a few weeks ago and built Limited Pennyplanes. They will again compete against the big boys in open competition!

So tired, yet so ready to do it all again!

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