With all due respect to the other contributors to this discussion, I am offering my opinion on the topic of possible Elastic Launch Glider event changes for next year. I believe that all contributors to this forum are doing so with the best interests of the student in mind and I fully support this value. I also am a firm believer that there is no such thing as a perfectly designed event like this, but I think that the Science Olympiad program as a whole, as a provider of much needed hands-on science to students, is a huge positive influence. I also believe that the simplest set of rules for a particular event will often result in the greatest potential for creative solutions.
If the current event practice of disclosing the competition site and site specifications shortly before the regional and state competitions is continued into the future, I don’t believe that scoring three flights out of five instead of two out of five improves the event. In the case of the Michigan State Championship event, the 30’ ceiling height of the event site was known only shortly before the date of competition, thereby presenting the students with a large variable to address in a short period of time. Most, if not all, students did their test flying leading up to the State competition in school gyms with no more than about 24’ of ceiling height and did not have a higher ceiling site available. This is not a commentary on whether I agree or disagree with the practice of supply key specifications shortly before the competitions. All teams were presented with the ceiling height variable at the same time and it is what it is. The challenge was to get creative and use knowledge developed during testing to address the new variable.
As flight testing for the Michigan State Championships was limited to ½ hour early on the morning of the competition and as this amount of time proved too short to develop a new flying strategy or aircraft design strategy for the 30’ ceiling height, the student that I was coaching determined that the best competition procedure would be to complete two flights based upon testing data that gave known results under a 24’ ceiling. After completing these two flights, the real interesting stuff began. My student used her knowledge, based upon earlier testing, of the variables launch angle, bank angle and launch power to attempt to come-up with a creative solution to the additional ceiling height. Although she did an excellent job of varying launch procedures in order to attempt additional flight time, none of these creative attempts were successful; probably because the fuselage wasn’t quite stiff enough to withstand additional launch velocity. In my opinion, the problem solving involved in these last three flights was high quality science in action. As it turned-out, my student’s two safe flights were sufficient to get her the State Championships silver medal, so she got some nice positive reinforcement for her glider construction, testing and flight planning efforts.
If three flights out of five are to be scored next year, and if site specifications like ceiling height are to be revealed shortly before competition dates, then the students will have reduced opportunity to creatively apply knowledge gained by testing. Students that I coach will probably decide to fly three relatively safe flights before trying something new for the last two flights.
My vote is to leave this event specification as-is. There is already a very large challenge in the event as it is and very large opportunity for increasingly creative solutions for future years (ex. Non-AMA glider based designs, Stan Stoy based designs, pigeon Peterson based designs, etc.).
In addition to leaving the official flight count at two, I would suggest one new rule to require the launch device to be a hand-held piece of wood (or other non-metallic material) of 6” maximum length with a 7” maximum length rubber loop attached to one end. The purpose of this suggestion is not to make the event more similar to the AMA event, but to limit the possibility of large launch devices damaging co-competitior’s gliders during practice sessions. Although I applaud the creativity and engineering employed by teams that developed large, free-standing launch devices, I see potential problems during the competition testing sessions. At this year’s Michigan State Championships there were 20 or more teams flying at the same time during the ½ hour testing session on the morning of the competition. The students showed care and courtesy and everything went fine and no gliders were damaged by co-competitors. This number of teams working together in a 120’x120’ flying area was a marginal but workable procedure. I see a high potential for problems though if all 20 teams testing have large, free-standing launch devices. Also, my intent in proposing a rubberband loop of 7” is to end the practice of two-person launching. There is a Youtube video of a very successful flight at a high-ceiling site using this launch method. I believe that the holder of the end of the rubber band using this method is at risk of being struck by an errant glider or a detached glider part.
Again, thanks to the event organizers, volunteers and Science Olympiad staff for providing a high-quality, hands-on science experience for young people. Great job!
AMA member (off and on) since 1972
NFFS member (again, off and on) for many years