SPARking An Interest in Engineering

Every airplane from the Boeing 717 to Air Force One needs just a few things to fly. Of course it needs wings, the rudder, the elevator, the aileron, the fuselage, the engines, the flight controls, and a whole lot more. Okay so an airplane needs more than a few things to fly, but one of the most important parts of an airplane is the spar.

First place winners: Ren, Tucker, Stephanie & A.J.

What's a spar? To put it simply, without a spar no airplane will go far. To put it in more technical terms, it is the main support beam on which the airplane's wings are built and it also carries the majority of the aircraft's weight.

So what does it take to build a spar? That was the mission Noelani Elementary School teacher Phyllis Murakami-Siu gave to three groups of her students. In conjunction with the University of Hawai'i College of Engineering, the Noelani Spar Project allowed the students to know what engineers go through when they are given a task. The task for these junior engineers was to design and build a light, but strong wing spar.

The first phase of development of the spar involved each group using their creative minds to come up with a design for their spar. Each student drew their own design and then each group came to an agreement to a design they wanted to use. The design could either be one of the individual student designs or a combination of designs.

Second place winners: Racine, Johnerson, Janee & Daniel

After coming up with a design, the second phase could begin, which was the actual construction of the spar. Each group was given a limited amount of the same set of materials to build their spar, which included:

- 2 pieces of balsa wood: 1/4" x 1/4" x 36" for framing and trusses
- 2 pieces of balsa wood: 1/8" x 1/8" x 36" for trusses
- 1 piece of balsa wood: 1/16" x 3" x 8" for fuselage
- Glue

They were also given toothpicks (to apply and spread glue), X-acto knives (to trim wood pieces), Styrofoam (as a working board), T-pins (to hold wood pieces in place before gluing), sandpaper (to smooth, shape wood), and medicine cups (to hold glue).

Just like every engineering creation, each spar had to meet certain specifications, like both sides of the wing spar had to be identical, only glue could be used to hold the pieces together, and each completed wing spar must fit into the stress-testing device. When the construction of each spar was finished, all the students' hard work was put to the test using a stress-testing device. This device consisted of a bucket that was hung from the fuselage by a wire. Amounts of sand were added to the bucket until the spar gave way.

Third place winners: Chelsae, Nicholas, Jeffery and Jordan

During the competition, each student was able to learn very important elements that all engineers learn: teamwork, creative thinking, problem solving, designing, and craftsmanship. They also were able to witness the concepts of Bernoulli's Principle, force, motion, and Newtons. However, for many of the students involved, there was one aspect that was probably more important: Fun.


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