WEST BETHESDA, Md. —
Seaplanes were flying high in West Bethesda, Maryland, in the auditorium of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division while sixth-grade students from the Mount Washington School in Baltimore participated in the Seaplane Challenge on Nov. 28. The Challenge is one of the many activities Carderock hosts to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Using paper, tape, drinking straws and some 3-D printed parts, students built their seaplanes modeled after Carderock's founding father Rear Adm. David Taylor's design for the U.S. Navy's NC (Navy Curtiss) flying boats, the first aircraft to cross the ocean.
Before the challenge began, Eric Silberg, activity creator and aerospace engineer in Carderock's Sea-Based Aviation and Aeromechanics Branch, explained to the students, "That's why this particular design and model that you built for this project is so special for Carderock, because it comes from the guy who is responsible, whose name is on our great facilities here."
Students were divided into teams of two to build and fly their seaplanes. Planes were launched from the end of the stage of the 400-person auditorium to see how many rows of seats the seaplane could clear as a measure of distance. Each team was given five attempts to fly their planes, with one student throwing the plane while the other member of the team observed its flight pattern so adjustments could be made accordingly to improve on each attempt.
"Today on your tour you've learned about testing; your goal now is to take what you learned and apply it to your airplanes. Observe what your airplane does when you test it, and decide what to change in order to make it fly better," Silberg said to the participants. "You will be engineering and testing like we do at Carderock."
Team Bullet was able to top the leaderboard on their fifth and final throw of their seaplane by clearing seven and half rows in the auditorium, besting the Blaze Maker's longest attempt of seven rows.
The purpose of the exercise, while also promoting skills and interest in STEM, was to give the students hands-on experience doing what the men and women of Carderock come into work and do every day: solve problems and create a stronger, more efficient fleet for the Navy.
"Every little change, every improvement you make to your design can help it fly straighter and farther," Silberg reminded students during their flying attempts.
To emphasize the importance of innovation in design, Carderock Commanding Officer Capt. Mark Vandroff told the students a story of being on USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) in a storm in 1993. The violent storm produced 60-foot waves and the ship pulled through the storm undamaged and with no injured personnel.
"I'm alive today to tell you about it because as the ship was being designed by the men and women at Carderock using all the cool stuff you saw today, they made sure the ship would be able to withstand storms like that," Vandroff said.
In addition to building and testing their own model seaplanes, during their visit students were able to tour some of the testing facilities, including the David Taylor Model Basin and the Maneuvering and Seakeeping (MASK) Basin. Students were given the opportunity to see how Carderock works to improve U.S. Navy ships to make the fleet safer and stronger, allowing Sailors to complete their mission.
Carderock has an active STEM outreach program with approximately 65 tours each school year, with students coming from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.