Glider makes a 60,000-foot journey

student with capstone project
Blake Wiley shows off the Physics and Engineering Club’s glider.

A crash landing from 60,000 feet is cause for panic, but after tracking their aircraft 9 miles off course into the woods, the students in the Centralia College Physics and Engineering Club were happy to have found their project at all.

“Considering it fell 60,000 feet into a tree, it’s still in really good shape,” said Blake Wiley, one of the students who worked on the project. “It’s just got one little dent.”

One little dent is a small price to pay for the incredible experience the students gained building, testing, and launching a video-equipped glider into the earth’s atmosphere.

The glider was lifted into near space with a large weather balloon. At peak height, the students activated a mechanism to release the balloon, allowing the glider to coast back to earth, collecting data and video of the entire journey.

The project took months of hard work.

“We budgeted $2,500 for parts and logistics, but it ended up costing us $3,000 due to some electronic failures during testing,” Wiley explained. “It turned out to be the most valuable part of the project. We had a problem and we had to figure it out and fix it the most effective way possible. We ended up learning a lot.”

Funding for the project was split evenly between the William Batie Science Endowment, a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics grant from the Centralia College Foundation, and the club budget.

The students launched the balloon and glider on a sunny, clear July day near Winlock. Overall, they considered it a rousing success.

“We reached our maximum radio range (23 miles), we were able to detach from the balloon, and our autopilot system successfully flew the plane back when wind pushed it out of radio range,” said Wiley. “We couldn’t have been happier with how it went.”

Now, the students are creating a video of their project and analyzing the data they collected. They are also planning next year’s project: an underwater vehicle.


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