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News Education SCC physics class implements ‘special delivery Santa drop’ project

After two close but not exact hits, on the third round David Green drops the orange water-filled balloon at the precise calculated moment to hit the target below. Photo by Andy PlouseDavid Green said he and his classmates learned that “physics can be fun.”

It all started with a special delivery project for the holiday season in Matt Cass’ physics class at Southwestern Community College.

Cass told his students that Santa was getting old and tired of climbing down the chimney. Their assignment was to design a prototype to help Santa drop presents directly down the chimney from his flying sleigh.

Sounds easy but the students soon learned it was actually tough.

Before the Special Delivery Santa Drop begins, Southwestern Community College physics instructor Matt Cass, right, gives last-minute instruction to his students. Earlier Cass had told his students that Santa was getting old and tired of climbing down the chimney. Their assignment was to design a prototype to help Santa drop presents directly down the chimney from his flying sleigh.Right away they discovered two major obstacles. First, their device must travel above the target. Secondly, they had to devise a means of releasing the package at the appropriate time.

Brainstorming, the class decided that a plane flying over and dropping water-filled balloons on a target would work. Everyone had a role to play and Green’s was securing the pilot and acting as co-pilot and balloon dropper.

With everything in place last week, the class met at the Franklin Airport where John Makinson of Franklin volunteered his services and his 1962 Cessna 150B.

Kyle Farr of Franklin laid out the target — two large intersecting blue tarp on the grassy center of the airport. Chelsea Lydeen of Whittier had filled the balloons which Green was to drop from the plane and onto the target. Zhu Zihao of Franklin had calculated position, velocity and acceleration for the projectile.

Jonathan Dunford of Franklin films as the plane circles around to line up for the balloon drop. “We really have to be precise with the wind measurement,” Dunford said. Photos provided by SCCOn the first pass, the balloons hit the concrete runway along side of the target.

“We really have to be precise with the wind measurement,” discovered Jonathon Dunford of Franklin, who was filming the project. Zihao recalculated.

On the second pass the balloon fell 10 feet to the right and 30 feet short of the target. Again Zihao recalculated.

Acting as the radio man, Robert Green of Franklin communicated the new calculations to the pilot. “Speed and altitude are crucial,” said Green, who learned that “physics takes trial and error out of the equation.”

“It hit the taget!” exclaimed an excited Kyle Fair of Franklin. “The balloon burst right on the tarp and water splattered everywhere!” Speed and altitude are crucial, said the students who learned that “physics takes trial and error out of the equation.”On the next pass the waterfilled balloons smacked the target and water burst onto the blue tarp prompting the classmates to burst into cheers.

“You’ve got so much margin of error I wasn’t sure we’d even hit the target,” said Lydeen. “I guess I learned that with physics anything is possible.”

Josh Jones of Sylva was impressed with their class project and the results. “This is real life experience. We were able to implement what we had learned in class.”

“I think these students could be a big help to Santa,” said Cass.





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published: 10/18/2013
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