Palatine High School's 'Ugly Pearl' wins hovercraft competition
With motors purring and propellers whirling, the "Ugly Pearl" hovercraft showed its stuff Saturday, powering through sharp turns, gliding over rocky terrain and scaling steep inclines.
Not bad for a vehicle whose components include a plastic garbage bag.
A team of Palatine High School students designed and built the hovercraft, which took top honors at Northrop Grumman's High School Innovation Challenge. Other high schools competing included New Trier and Oak Park-River Forest.
On paper, all three hovercrafts looked impressive, but in the field, Palatine's model not only hovered but kept moving, a feat that -- as rival machines spiraled -- is harder than it looks.
"Each motor is on a different joystick, so you have to match them together -- if you don't it spins and twirls," explained operator Nicholas Losch, 17, who is headed for the Milwaukee School of Engineering in the fall.
He wasn't the only senior in the school's computer integrated manufacturing program who intends to study engineering after graduation, a goal encouraged by Northrop Grumman mentors who helped the students create the hovercraft, which traverses land and water using a cushion of air.
But even with advice from experts, building a hovercraft from scratch has its challenges. The Ugly Pearl name, which meshes with Palatine High School's "Pirates" nickname, reflects its sometimes contrary nature.
"There was a lot of going back to the drawing board," senior Ivan Krautchouk, 18, said. The team's first choice as material for the air cushion was a garbage bag, but they later bought a tarpaulin instead. Unfortunately, "there was so much friction with the floor it inhibited it from moving," Ivan said.
"So we went back to the bag. ... The bag was great. It slid around perfectly."
"It's very technical," senior Kayla Ruiz, 17, added jokingly.
Students brainstormed different designs, then voted on the best one, and applied democratic principles to assigning tasks. They spent two months building the hovercraft.
"Everyone had a job to do and they did it every time," senior Oleksiy Korniychuk, 18, said. "If we needed to switch out a component, we knew who to go to."
The competition was sponsored by the Illinois Science and Technology Institute, which seeks to match schools with corporations and research institutions to encourage careers in math and science. Northrop Grumman engineers judged the contest based on presentation, performance and design.
"What's great is how these kids experience real-world challenges," applied technology teacher Alex Larson said.