On Saturday, February 20th, SEDS (Students for Exploration and Development of Space) hosted their first “Build A Blimp Day” for 13 Clinton County Students. Throughout the day, the 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students shadowed and were mentored by 18 volunteers from the College of Engineering. The purpose of the event was to design, build, and test remotely controlled blimps, a.k.a. a five-hour version of the Introduction to Aerospace Engineering course coordinated by Professor Pete Washabaugh.
The event lasted five hours. Clinton County Students arrived at 10 AM and were welcomed by the U-M volunteers. After an ice-breaker and introductory presentation, the volunteers and students were divided in four groups.
Each team had a bench in the ENGR 100 lab and was supported by volunteers throughout every step of the design-build-test process. An innovative component of the event was the CAD design of the gondola structures and its fabrication out of ⅛” plywood sheets using a laser cutter.
Other stations involved the fabrication of ducts and assembly of propellers, the programming of a microcontroller using Arduino code, the fabrication of an envelope using polyethylene sheets and hot jaw sealers, and the overall assembly of the gondola, which was used as a casing for the batteries and electronics and as a support for the propulsion system.
The envelope was then attached to the gondola and inflated with helium until neutral buoyancy was achieved. After the fabrication phase, the four groups were able to fly their blimps in the FXB atrium. This was definitely the students’ favorite part of the event: Needless to say, the battle of the blimps kept them engaged and occupied for over an hour.
The whole day was a success: all blimps worked, and the students’ enthusiasm was at a high level throughout the day. All the necessary material was recycled from the Engineering 100 course, also making the event cost-effective. Professor Washabaugh’s support was fundamental in the planning and success of the event. He opened the doors to his lab, welcoming in SEDS volunteers during the preparation of the event, and also students, teachers, and parents during the actual event.
-Guest contributor, Emanuela Della Bosca