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Grace Parker and Alyssa Michaelis didn’t have much time to figure out how to adjust their wind turbine so it would yaw — oscillate about a vertical axis — while maintaining power output.

But figure it out they did, and the wind turbine built by the Henley High School team of Parker, Michaelis, Skyler Howard and Tim Orr earned the team a score that placed them top five in the nation last month at the 2019 National KidWind Challenge in Houston, Texas.

The four-member team, named Full Throttle, placed first at a regional KidWind competition this spring to qualify for the national event. Parker and Michaelis represented Full Throttle at the national challenge; Howard and Orr, who were members of Henley’s varsity baseball team, could not attend because of state playoff games.

Field of competition

The two-day National KidWind Challenge featured 28 high school and 52 middle school teams. During the competition, students were tested on their knowledge of renewable energy, their design and problem solving prowess, and their wind turbines’ energy output in four different wind tunnels. The teams were judged by a panel of wind industry professionals.

Overall, three teams from Henley High School and two teams from Henley Middle School qualified for the national competition by earning the top two places in regional KidWind tournaments. The other teams that competed at the national event were the high school teams of Thys DeHoop, Dylan Huynh, Jeffrey Hudson and Andrew Wilcher; and Sam Ellis, Avery Hirschbock and Alex Sharp; and the middle school team of Jack Wooten, Jase Tchetter, and Brasen Fossen. The second middle school team – Carson Santos and Lane Vaughn – did not attend the national event.

Design, adapt

Figuring out how to make their turbine “yaw” was just one of the challenges Parker and Michaelis faced. They ended up building a double Lazy Susan-type platform, but when they put their turbine on it discovered they needed to trim their blades and re-size the entire base to fit the regulation space. So they did and the turbine performed well.

Team scores were based on their performance of four tasks. Teams tested their wind turbine’s performance and energy output in the four KidWind wind tunnels. They then presented their design choices, challenges, and successes to the judges. To further test their knowledge and skill, teams completed a wind and renewable energy quiz, as well as two instant challenges during which teams had 30 minutes to complete surprise activities to test their problem-solving, teamwork, and engineering skills.

Each of the five top-performing teams in each age division received $250 in prize money and title of National Champion.

Full Throttle overall placed fourth, and their turbine’s power output was ranked top three in the nation. The other teams in the top five were from New York, California, Pennsylvania and Kansas.

Private tour

The Henley teams during their trip received a private tour of the Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston by Dr. Norm Chaffee, a now-retired NASA propulsion engineer who also worked on the Gemini Project and the International Space Station. Chaffee talked to Henley High School engineering students last fall as part of a speaking tour on his experiences working with NASA and on Apollo 11.

That tour was one of the highlights of the trip, said Kristi Lebkowsky, Henley High School engineering teacher and adviser, who traveled to Houston with the students.

“You could here a pin drop as my students intently listened to Norm describe each phase of the Saturn V rocket that sat behind him,” she said. “How many kids get to meet a NASA propulsion engineer who has worked on so many influential missions? His stories brought each mission to life and the kids were honored to be there. Amazing experience!”

The national hands-on engineering competition took place in the George R. Brown Convention Center Grand Ballroom during the American Wind Energy Association Wind Power 2019 Conference. The KidWind Challenge was developed in 2009 by the KidWind Project, an international leader in wind energy education, and has been embraced and supported by leading energy industry companies since its start.

For information on the annual KidWind Competition held at Henley High School each spring, contact Kristi Lebkowsky by email at