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Alyssa Michaelis, Jeff Hudson and Thys DeHoop were last to compete as they set up their wind turbine, dubbed “Blade Runner,” in the wind tunnel for the KidWind Challenge in the Henley High School gym.

A crowd gathered to watch. As their turbine began to spin, the power output jumped off the chart. Judges had to adjust the scale to catch up with how much power the turbine produced. Then a gear suddenly flew off the turbine, and the line marking the power took a nosedive, dropping to zero.

“When the gear popped off, you could see it plummeting,” said Alyssa. “I think my heart stopped.”

Team Blade Runner worked quickly to repair the worn-out gear, gluing it back on.

“Superglue works nice,” said Jeff.

Luckily, like all competitors at the KidWind Challenge, they had a second chance. After its second run, Blade Runner produced 64,965 milliwatts per second, taking first place at the Klamath competition and likely setting a new record in the KidWind world. Jon Roschke, KidWind coordinator for the Pacific Northwest, said he’s seen 50,000 before, but never anything higher than 60,000.

“It felt pretty good,” Jeff said. “We put a lot of work into our turbine to make it precise this year.”

“Here at Henley, we like to win,” Thys said. “That’s one of the reasons we’ll stay up until 11 o’clock at night working on a wind turbine.”

Build, test, present

Blade Runner was one of 36 teams made up of about 100 students from Henley High School, Henley Middle School and Brixner Junior High School to compete in the second annual KidWind Challenge in Klamath. Teams built and tested their own wind turbines, spoke before a panel of industry professionals, designed a model of a sail-powered car for an instant challenge, and completed a renewable energy quiz – all divisions in the competition.

“It’s impressive to see the designs that people have come up with,” Thys, who is also president of the Henley Engineering Club, said. “A lot more diverse since last year. We have vertical axis wind turbines and horizontal axis wind turbines. It looks like some people really thought about it, really planned it out, and came up with some brilliant ideas.”

The event at Henley High on March 10 was one of nearly 40 KidWind challenges happening nationwide. About 300 people came to watch the event, and had the chance to participate in STEM activities at Henley. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

The top two finishers in the high school and middle school divisions automatically qualify for nationals in Chicago. Those who placed third through fifth can compete at the regional competition in Seattle for another shot at nationals.

Test tragedy

Team Henley Breakthrough took second place in the high school division. Lena Dreyer and Emma Wilkinson built a turbine that produced 50,987 milliwatts per second. The night before competition, a fan in their practice tunnel fell on their turbine, knocking off a blade. They stayed up late into the night repairing their machine. At competition the orange blades nearly disappeared, they moved so fast.

“My adrenaline was so high,” Emma said. “Exciting.”

“That was incredible,” Lena said. “We had to do so much just to be here and do that. I’m so glad Emma and I worked together to be a part of this.”

The path to competition is not an easy one, said Dr. Kristi Lebkowsky, engineering teacher at Henley High and Henley Middle. Students had just two weeks to design and build their turbines. Most students designed at least one component using the CAD computer program, brainstormed and collaborated with teammates, and physically built a turbine from the ground up.

“Can you imagine making a wind turbine from scratch when you were in seventh grade?” Lebkowsky said. “Our kids are so capable, we just need to give them the vehicles that they need to succeed. And that starts with STEM learning.”

Catching air

Ty Earnest and Matt Elfbrandt are two students from Brixner Junior High who placed third in their division using the KidWind nacelle design. Their turbine produced 16,263 milliwatts per second.

“Out of our groups we did at school, it caught the most air,” Ty said of their Winner Spinner turbine.

“Instead of cardboard, we chose this type of paper. The blades are much lighter so it’s able to spin more,” Matt said. “I like working and creating.”

Team Henley Breakthrough agreed.

“I like it because it’s a challenge,” said Emma. “It’s hands-on. It’s good to learn skills that will be helpful later in life.”

“I love how you can do so many things,” Lena said. “It really teaches you a lot about life, to make things, and take what you have and make something new.”

“It is truly inspiring to see students have no boundaries to their learning,” Lebkowsky said. “They are constantly impressing me with their drive to extend their knowledge and always find ways to improve their designs.”