I was reading a small article in Model Aviation magazine in 2006 that described a summer program for girls 12 years old at UW Stout in Menomonee Wisconsin that was based on building radio control sailplanes as a manufacturing process. I was very interested in radio control sailplanes at the time and the idea of using model planes in an educational setting was even more interesting to me. Stout is about 70 miles from where I lived so I emailed the director of the program Pete Heimdahl and he invited me to come over for a day to observe.
|Starting Small Engine on Completed Glider|
|Cutting Foam Wing with Hotwire|
|Picture of Shop Area|
On arrival I was given a tour of the facility where the model airplanes were manufactured. The process was not like how model planes were normally constructed but consisted of a bunch of stations for each small process need to complete a model sailplane. Each girl would travel through all the stations to build the sailplane like on an assembly line except that the builder would learn all the different station operations and not just one operation.
The glider was constructed mainly from the foam board that is sold in art stores and the wing was cut using a hotwire. There were many jigs setup for the construction, every plane should be the same as all the rest. An entire glider was built in a day and then all the gliders were flown in one evening, I stuck around for the flying which appeared to be a real thrill for the girls. I also went to classes that were also part of the program like robotics, computers, and CAD design.
|Launching Another Glider|
|Flying the Glider|
I also created a video that explains this better. The program has been held at other universities such as St. Thomas in Minnesota. At Stout the focus has changed from the model airplane to a model boat and this summer it will be building a robot. The fall of that year I would return to show people at Stout the idea I had for an electric powered airplane that had the electronics in a removable pod like the gliders they were building. In this way many airplanes can be flown using a few radio control units.
|Radio Pod Switched Between Gliders|
Most impressive to me is that this program continues after many years and data has been collected proving that when entering college the girls that went through STEPS were much more likely to study in a science area than the general population of females. The video explains this in more detail.
STEPS at UW Stout
STEPS at St. Thomas