Taking On the Solar Car Challenge
Bend’s Trinity High School and Lancair of Redmond, builder of composite jet airplanes, are working together to build and race a state-of-the-art carbon solar race car. The Oregon Solar Car Team at Trinity exists through the efforts of Trinity teacher Tom Stueve.
In 2006, Steuve and a fellow teacher from Adelaid, Australia (finish line for the World Solar Challenge) collaborated on the idea of creating a program that would allow high school students to design, build and race their own solar-powered race car. They did some research and found the Solar Car Challenge in Texas, established in 1993, founded to help motivate students in science and engineering, and to increase alternative energy awareness.
The Challenge provides information and support to high school students around the world to build roadworthy solar cars. With the support of Bend Research, Steuve went to Texas to see if creating a Bend solar car team was feasible. To get started, Trinity looked to OSU’s solar car team for help with overall design and to learn how to make the molds for the body of the car.
When the Trinity team needed further help, they contacted Lancair. With the help and materials from Boeing and Lancair, Trinity’s team was able to build a carbon fiber body and frame for their car, something the race had never seen. Bend Research provides the use of their facility for the shop space. Without the help of these two businesses the project wouldn’t have been possible.
In 2010, the Trinity solar race car team drove their car, the Heliocentric, to Texas Motor Speedway and the Solar Challenge. The main goals were just to get the car to Texas and around the track. The drive train would fall off making the solar power useless. The fast–running helicopter motor didn’t work well for the slower starting speeds, creating erratic accelerator issues. The dashboard needed improvement. But far from being discouraged, the Trinity team was elated to make it as far as they did. Language and media arts teacher Mark Lindow filmed the Texas trip, producing the documentary film, Willing to Fail.
They learn real-world skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, project management and fundraising. The solar car project is a reasonable engineering challenge, building confidence that can be applied beyond the classroom in the outside world. The hands-on project primes these students for careers in mechanical and chemical engineering, and aeronautics. This type of project for high school students is the only one of its kind in the country.
In speaking with driver Peter Fortenberry about his role, he said the most current obstacle is getting his driver’s permit and license so that he can legally drive the car in a race. This statement caused hilarity among the team members, but was a reminder of the significance of this project; these are teenagers, and they are building their own car.
The team will not enter the Solar Challenge this year, but will instead work on improving the design and getting a great paint job on the car with all of the sponsors’ names. When asked what message they would like to send out to other high school students, Alyssa McCray, financial advisor and marketing whiz enthusiastically says,” You don’t have to know anything about electronics or engineering. It’s just fun to get involved.” They are looking for more people from Mountain View and Bend to join the Oregon High School Solar Car Team, especially drivers.
The Trinity solar race car project is an example of the power of a community effort, building a business model of teamwork. It is said, “It takes a village” and that village is comprised of Trinity High School, Lancair, Bend Research, OSU and many other sponsor’s including parents who offer their skills and time to this fantastic project.
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