Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mentoring Over the Internet

Closeup of capacitor and electric motor in my sample plane.
Two years ago I received an email from a middle school student looking for help with constructing a model plane for a trial event in the Science Olympiad program known as Wright Capacitor. She could not find any help at school or from a local hobby shop. I replied that I would try to help the best I could through email.

The rules spelled out specifications for the airplane and certain capacitor which is an electronics component that stores electricity. I ordered a couple of the capacitors and designed a model plane that would comply with the rules. By postal mail I sent a simple rubber-powered kit so she could start getting some building experience.

I flew my capacitor plane outdoors and then sent pictures of it so that the student could try to design something similar. She made several planes, some by modifying kits and some scratch built. One of her planes flew away while testing outside, it had flown in a thermal air current. There were so many emails back and forth but the result was amazing, below is part of an email I received from her mother:
One of student's planes

"You have been helping our daughter for 'Wright Stuff' event and thanks to you, she did very well at the National Science Olympiad 2011, placing 6th out of 61 State teams from all over USA! 

As she might have shared with you, we had no idea about building planes, let alone flying them.  With your guidance and encouragement, we saw her confidence and enthusiasm soaring high and she became more and more determined to reach her goal- a 40 second flight. However, with each model she built and took your advise, she kept improving the model bit by bit, so last Sunday we saw a phenomenal flight of over 90 seconds- some in lieu to the air currents, as you explained to her.  But losing the plane did not dishearten her. She got back to work right away and came up with 2 near perfect models and an extra set of wings, and tail. We were able to get the tiny switches on the Thursday from DC. and that allowed her to use a penny weight on the plane. 
She succeeded in getting the school gym time slot for flight practice and trimming on Thursday night.  Friday morning she left at 6:00am!

Every single piece of advise you gave, went with her to Wisconsin in her notebook. You were the first person she wanted to share the flight time with- after practice flights and final flights!  In short, Mr. Kuhl, you inspired and motivated a child to reach for the impossible from Winona and planted a passion that will benefit her for a lifetime! 

We are very grateful to you for guiding her, and appreciate everything you did for her. Thank you very much!"

Video of My Sample Plane Flying Outdoors


  1. Where do you get the motors for these? I'd like to get a project going with some students using 2.7 volt ultracapacitors.


  2. I found this in an old email but the links appear to be good.

    I order pager motors from Bob Selman Designs Micro RC ( and David Lewis (

  3. how do you make it and what is the size's of the wing and the tail

  4. Wingspan is about 40 cm with chord of 9 cm. Stabilizer is 25 cm with chord of 7 cm. It is built from balsa pieces covered with tissue. This would not be the first airplane a person should build. To get good duration the plane must be built light.