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New design contest takes wing

A three-student team flew to victory with the glider they designed for the first annual Unified Engineering Design Contest last month--and if their luck continues, their glider might some day make it to a toy store shelf.

The design contest, held last month in the Johnson Athletics Center, was part of Unified Engineering, the set of subjects which comprise the sophomore year in aeronautics and astronautics. Contest goals were to design foam toy gliders that are safe, perform well, are aesthetically appealing and are low-cost. The contest was sponsored by Hasbro Toy Group of Pawtucket, RI, which hopes to market the gliders under the Nerf brand name. Hasbro provided $1,000 in prize money as well as technical assistance for the contest.

The victorious Eagle Team of Eric Carreno, Carl Dietrich and Christopher Protz won the $600 first prize provided by Hasbro with a design reminiscent of the F-117 stealth aircraft with an innovative, low-cost construction technique.

Taking the $300 second-place prize were Unified Tool and Die (John Thomas, Alex Shterenberg and Nicholas Savoulides). The Skunkworks Team (Megan Cooney, Adam Matuszeski and Thad Matuszeski) placed third and received $100.

The contest was conceived by Professor Paul Lagace (a MacVicar Faculty Fellow) and Associate Professor Steven Hall, who is the instructor in charge of Unified Engineering as well as the aero/astro assistant department head. Other faculty in Unified, all of whom contributed to the contest, are Professors Wesley Harris, Winston Markey, Ian Waitz, Mark Spearing and Carlos Cesnik.

Until this year, the spring-term design project in Unified was usually a paper design of an aerospace vehicle. Though that type of project has advantages, students are often frustrated because they don't really know that the designs will work, Professor Hall said.

"I wanted to create a design contest that would motivate the students and have an element of fun, but where they would have to prove that their designs work by building them. A toy glider is the perfect project--it's small enough so students can do a complete design, but it's challenging because they must understand flight mechanics, fluid mechanics and structures, as well as manufacturing and costing."

Hasbro designers Todd Wise, Steve Frolich and Chuck Miga provided technical advice to the students, attended the design review and helped with judging.

"Overall, we at Hasbro were extremely impressed with the technical expertise brought to the project by the students, and also amazed at the enormous variety of styles and shapes generated," Mr. Wise said. "Hasbro is seriously investigating the manufacture of a few of the designs, and may bring them to market as early as spring 1998."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 4, 1997.

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