April 18, 2003page 16 of 28

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a paper glider!
Earlier this month a team of engineering students traveled to North Carolina to compete in the Energy Challenge 2003, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The glider placed second in the flight category.

By Jennifer Lee
Staff Writer
April 18, 2003

Photo courtesy Vicky Hsu

The team poses with their finished hang glider on the dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park in North Carolina. Despite having to be patched with duct tape, their glider placed second in the flight competition.

If you think folding paper airplanes is cool, what about building a paper hang glider? Five students from Tech have been doing just that.

Their efforts recently culminated in the Energy Challenge 2003, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. An annual competition, previous years' Energy Challenge participants have had to build, for example, kayaks and sailboats-all out of paper.

Carl McIntyre, Vicky Hsu, Wendy Fu, Jabulani Barber-all chemical engineering students-and April Moore, an aerospace sophomore, composed this year's team. They became involved while taking Dr. Jeffrey Hsieh's Pulp and Papermaking class; McIntyre, who took the class a year before the others and was involved in last year's Challenge, volunteered to head the effort for 2003. This involved submitting a proposal over the summer to Tech's Institute of Paper Science and Technology in order to be eligible for a $2,000 grant from the Energy Challenge sponsors.

However, McIntyre had no problems finding other volunteers. "It just sounded very interesting," said Hsu, a senior. Another incentive was the prize money: $15,000 for the winners of the competition, to be divided amongst the school and the team members. Work on the hang glider began early last September. "At first we thought we had to [build] everything out of paper, from the sail to the frame," said Barber. Though the teams were provided with an aluminum frame, Tech's team did not receive theirs until about a month and a half after they began working, causing them to lose valuable time. However, Barber said, "I was actually disappointed that they gave it to us-I thought we could do it [without the frame]."

Once the team had the frame, their focus turned to the hang glider's sail. Having found little success with the paper sold in retail or arts and craft stores, the team turned to Hsieh, who suggested they try the same paper used by last year's team. Donated by a research company, the paper fared well in strength and water absorbancy tests, so the team decided to use it.

Another aspect of the hang glider that the team had to research was the design. "I tagged along with April when we went to the AE Department and hunted down people who could talk to us," said Barber.

Also, he laughed, "The internet does wonders."

The group also got a chance to hang glide themselves: they, along with their advisor, took a trip to a hang gliding school at Lookout Mountain. "We all got a chance to hang glide," said Hsu, "and we talked to the instructors, [who] helped us understand not only how to hang glide, but how a hang glider works."

From the beginning, the team consistently worked around four hours a week to put the hang glider together. Construction and storage took place at the Atlanta Technology Center, off Northside Drive. However, "the few weeks before the competition," said Hsu, "We were going there almost every day and working there late at night, plus the weekend, to try and put everything together."

The hang glider's final dimensions were impressive: with a base of about 35 ft and a length of about 12 ft, it weighed a mere 55-60 pounds, with most of the weight being from the aluminum frame. Since it was made from paper, the sail, decorated with the GT logo and Buzz, only weighed approximately 10 pounds.

The glider's span was a little bit of a problem: the weekend of the flight competition-Friday and Saturday, April 4-5-three of the team members, Hsu, Moore and Fu, along with Dr. Hsieh and their TA, traveled to Nags Head, North Carolina, and transported their hang glider, frame folded and sail rolled, in their van. "We fit the frame under the seats, but the sail, we had to roll up," said Hsu.

Added Fu, "It stetched almost from the back to the driver's seat."

Fitting the glider into a 15-passenger van turned out to be the least of their problems, however. On their first day at the competition, which took place on sand dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park, their sail ripped as the team was trying to set up. "It was just the three of us," said Hsu, "and while we were trying to put the sail on the frame-it was huge, and it was very windy-we were spreading the sail out, and a gust of wind just came, and it caught an edge and the sail just ripped [in] the middle... almost ripped halfway."

Therefore, unlike the rest of the teams, who spent Friday testing their gliders, the Tech team spent it patching up their sail. "Duct tape fixes everything," Hsu laughed. In addition, they had just enough time to assemble their glider before the competition began the next day. "We made sure we didn't go out to the windy area [to set it up]," said Fu.

And lastly, despite having trained for the moment, Hsu, the team's pilot, did not get the fly the hang glider. Because of the strong winds that day, for safety reasons, instructors flew each team's hang glider.

However, despite all the mishaps, the Tech glider fared amazingly well. "Everyone was shocked, especially the instructors. [They] were like, well, we didn't even test fly it!" said Hsu.

She added proudly, "One of the instructors, who was the main instructor for a hang gliding school, said that our glider was most like the training glider that they have."

Also, she pointed out, "We were the smallest team there, all girls, compared to up to 10 members on the other teams."

Hsu added, "Also, a lot of them made this project their senior design project, while we were just doing this as volunteers."

Their glider's performance earned them a second place finish in flight. "Even then, there was a discrepancy," said Barber, explaining that they got second by a close margin. "The pilot that flew [our glider] hit a dune near the bottom. The winning team didn't have that dune."

Unfortunately, when it came to scoring, flying only counted 20 points out of the total 100 points possible. Other components that were considered in the overall standings included midterm and final reports, various criteria the paper used in the sail had to satisfy, and a presentation the day of the competition. Because the requirements had not been well-documented on the website, the team was unaware of several of the requirements. "We had no idea about the presentation," said Hsu.

"I went and talked to the judges afterwards," Hsu continued, "and he was saying... your advisor should know [about the requirements], and we said, 'Our advisor just told us to go there and have fun!'"

The teammates were likewise good-natured about their mistakes, and jokingly asserted that the only thing that really matters is the flying. "We're engineers! Who cares about reports?" said Hsu.

With most of the team planning on competing again next year, though, they are already starting to look ahead. Next year's Challenge will be to build a snowboard. "We want to make a call to all snowboarders," Barber said, "whether they want to get involved with the construction, or the testing, or the actual competition."

And this time they'll be prepared. Said Barber, of next year's endeavor, "We will make sure that it wins."

Anyone interested in joining next year's team should contact Vicky Hsu at

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