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Hartselle Enquirer

HHS Engineering to compete in Army contest

HHS Engineering students working on the switchblade competition include, from left, Matt Green, Liam Bair, Billy Partain, Christopher Bartholomew, Samantha Lightle, Jayce Johnson, Marietta Wilhelm, Luke McDaniel and Jon Anderson. They are working on designing the most efficient blades for wind power systems. | Joy Haynes
HHS Engineering students working on the switchblade competition include, from left, Matt Green, Liam Bair, Billy Partain, Christopher Bartholomew, Samantha Lightle, Jayce Johnson, Marietta Wilhelm, Luke McDaniel and Jon Anderson. They are working on designing the most efficient blades for wind power systems. | Joy Haynes

A group of nine Hartselle High School engineering students will be competing against four other teams April 22 in the Switchblade Competition at the University of Alabama in Huntsville Shelby Center.

Team BladeRunners is redesigning and manufacturing the blades of a wind power system originally used for military operations in Afghanistan. The winning team will be the one with the most efficient blades tested in Alabama wind conditions. The contest is sponsored by the Alabama Center for Sustainable Energy, Avion Solutions, UAH and U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center.

The team was encouraged to enter by HHS graduate and Vencore aerospace engineer Ryan Noe.

“Ryan contacted us about entering after the contest had already started,” said HHS engineering teacher and team faculty sponsor Kim Pittman. “He thought it would be great if Hartselle was represented in the competition, so I asked if anyone was interested. Ryan has helped us through every step of the way and has made himself available to us for questions and met with us in his personal time. He guided them in the right direction and got them organized into their own personal skillsets, giving them real world titles.”

The group has divided the work into research, calculations, design and manufacturing.

“The aerospace aspect is completely new to us,” said project research analyst and composites engineer Samantha Lightle. “We had to do extensive research into how turbines work before we could figure out what would be the most efficient blades.”

“Luckily, we have a very balanced team that has a range of skillsets,” project manager Marietta Wilhelm said. “We all gravitate towards a different part of the project, so we have all get to work on our expertise.”

Project coordinator and engineer Luke McDaniel said they are pressured by their late start, but they are trying to work together to make up for it.

“The college teams we are competing against have been working on this for months, but we only have a month and a half,” McDaniel said. “We had to start all the way at the beginning to figure out how a turbine works, but we aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. We just want to make it better. We are trying to be smart about it and not waste our time.”

The team has come up with a design and is working on translating it to the computer. They are working with Calhoun to manufacture the blades using their 3D printer to print a mold for the blades. The molds will be used to cast the blades out of the material they determine to be the most efficient, possibly polyurethane foam covered in fiberglass. Each team was given $500 to fund their project.

The team said they have already gained experience from the project and hope to gain more.

“We are learning valuable problem solving skills that we will need as engineers,” said project manufacturing engineer Jayce Johnson. “We are blazing a trail for ourselves. I’ve personally learned a lot about the process of manufacturing and quality control. I’ve also learned about the extensive research process that needs to be done.”

“I am going to the University of Alabama to become a construction engineer, and I know this project has helped me get the feel of what it’s like in the real world,” Wilhelm said. “Now I have practice with a project timeline and meeting deadlines, which will be applicable to my future career.”

“This project has been a good way for me to get involved and hopefully get my foot in the door,” said project manufacturing engineer Billy Partain. “I’ve gained a lot of experience, and I hope to make contacts through this to help me once I’m in college.”

Team BladeRunners is working on the project during their own time, but the engineering students were already familiar with open-ended projects for real-world clients through class assignments. Other students are currently working on a weather balloon launch for the Army, and the class has previously contributed to a NASA payload.

Donna Legg-Battles is also a faculty sponsor.

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