Los Altos Academy of Engineering

Human Powered Airplane: FAQ

Q: What is a human powered airplane?
A: A human powered airplane is just as the name implies. It is an ultra-lightweight aircraft powered solely by a person onboard. In our case, the pilot pedals a bicycle-like crank, which pulls a chain that in turn, spins a propeller, pushing air, causing the plane to move forward, forcing air to pass over the wings, causing the wings to get lift, and ultimately, lifting the plane into the air (we hope). There are numerous other designs out there, but ours is one of the simplest. To see some other human powered airplanes, go to the Raven website or Birdman Rally Competition page.

Q: So what's so great about human powered airplanes?
A: First off, there are only a few successful human powered airplanes in the world, so making one of our own is a pretty cool thing. Second, human powered airplanes are incredibly difficult to engineer (from experience, solar cars are much easier). Finally, they introduce a lot of ideas about lightweight aircraft and require new paradigm, which has far reaching benefits in all sorts of aviation applications, and beyond.

Q: Why are you trying to build a human powered airplane?
A: Good question. We are still trying to figure that one out ourselves. Just kidding :-) First off, we are crazy to try and build a human powered airplane because of all the time and work needed to complete it. So why are we doing this? Mainly for the self-satisfaction of building something that no other high school in the nation has built. And we get to meet some really cool people too!

Q: This project is great and all, but what will actually come out of it?
A: You mean other than a bunch of crazy students, right? The technology and patterns of thought that have come out of building human powered airplanes is pretty amazing. If you are up to date on avionics and high-tech NASA stuff, you are probably familiar with the Centurion and Pathfinder, both lightweight, man-less aircrafts designed to fly at ultra-high altitudes. Well, the company building and designing these aircrafts is AeroVironment, and the founder of this company is none other than Paul MacCready--the engineer behind the first successful HPA, the Gossamer Condor. So who was it again questioning the validity of HPAs?

Q: How many hours man have been spent on this project?
A: This one's easy...too many to count. We have been working for the past three years on a daily basis. At least three times a week we work from 3-5 hours, and in the summer and on some weekends, that number quadruples. There are always between half a dozen and a little more than a dozen people working on the project, and we span four grades.

Q: How much money has been spent on the project?
A: In all, we have spent over $10,000 on the project. No we are not all corrupt, we do actually go through this much money on tools, materials, and supplies. Taxpayers don't fret, because....

Q: Wow! That's a lot of money, where does it all come from?
A: Almost none of our money comes from the district. We are primarily supported by fundraising. Numerous companies have donated supplies and/or money to our program. We are forever grateful to these people! They are all saints! If you are interested in helping us, please feel free to call or email us!

Q: What's going to happen after you fly the plane?
A: We're all going on a trip to Tahiti to get a break from the insanity of HPA! Seriously, we have no idea. Assuming the plane doesn't break between the time it gets off the ground and the time it is back in our shop, we are hoping some fresh blood steps up to continue the project. If we can get this plane to fly, it would be nice to redesign it and make a version that is actually capable of turning in at least one direction, as long as it's not down.

Q: This is great! I want to make my own HPA, how do I get started?
A: First, go crazy like us because not too many sane people undertake projects like this (if you don't believe us, watch the video from the Birdman Rally Competition). Second, get a lot of money because these aren't cheap. Third, unless you have tons of experience flying ultra-lightweight, slow flying aircraft (hey, that just so happens to be your college major? what a coincidence!), do lots of research. You can start by looking at the Raven website or the Birdman Website, both on our links page.

Q: Since I'm not going to be making my own human powered airplane anytime soon, how can I help you with the Grasshopper?
A: We can use all the help we can get. However, this doesn't mean we want you coming down in your work clothes, ready to get it on, because the majority of the time, we have more than enough hands. You can help us by supporting us through supplies and donations, or with insurance. Please call or e-mail us for more information! We would LOVE to talk to you!
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