Flying by trial and error provides engineering thrills


Above: Students from ENG2000 gather in the Atrium of the Computer Science & Engineering Building after the second session of flight trials for their year-long design projects

Students in York’s second-year engineering design course climbed to the heights of the Computer Science & Engineering Building’s Atrium last week to test gliders constructed as part of a year-long design project.

Left: Team member Andrew Speers prepares to launch his colleagues’ glider under the watchful eye of instructor Richard Hornsey

Over the course of two days, Professor Richard Hornsey of the Department of Computer Science & Engineering observed the flying prototypes with stopwatch in hand. Designated team members launched their gliders from the third-floor balcony hoping for a slow, straight-line flight over the forbidding green plant life on the Atrium’s lower level and into the waiting hands of team members on the far side. Gliders built out of balsa, Foamcore and Styrofoam took off with the hopes of their student creators – and a payload of two quarters – on board.

This year, $2,000 in prize money was donated by the Molson Foundation for additional incentive over and above the fact that the project represents five per cent of the students’ grade in the course. For competition results, see the ENG2000 Web site.

The results ranged from glorious to disastrous: One model sculpted from Styrofoam sailed serenely across the space, remaining in flight for five seconds; another glider rocketed skyward only to nose-dive suddenly and crash into the Atrium’s version of a remote mountain range, an out-of-reach ledge on the first-floor wall where it was rescued by graduate student Wei Gao using a broken palm frond.

Right: Graduate student Wei Gao rescues one team’s glider after an unsuccessful flight

ENG2000 is the second year-long design course in York’s Engineering Program. Unlike other engineering schools, York has integrated modern concepts of engineering throughout the program, providing a common backbone for all the three engineering streams: computer, geomatics and space engineering. In each stream, said Hornsey, design projects expose students to team work, project management, presentations and report writing.

“Technical aspects of the project are, of course, important,” said Hornsey, “but one of the main goals is for students to learn the non-technical skills that are essential in modern engineering practice. I have found that students enjoy designing and constructing something tangible, and a spirit of friendly competition helps focus the mind too.”

The event is just another example of the excitement on campus over the Engineering Program at York, which is graduating its first fourth-year class this spring. For more on the program, see the story on York’s first entry in a provincial design competition in the Feb. 18, 2005 issue of YFile.