Japan from the inside out

Japanese high school boys: Coming in on a wing and a prayer

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 26, 2007

WE’VE ALL SEEN the goofy films of aviation pioneers and their comical failures to fly using man-powered aircraft. Did people really have to try it for themselves before they understood that attaching big wings to their arms and flapping like a bird wouldn’t work?


After a century of engine-powered flight, however, some students at the Higashi Okayama Technical High School in Okayama Prefecture discovered that man-powered flight has its uses after all when eight of them in the Machinery Department built a man-powered aircraft and successfully flew it on school grounds on the 18th.

Third-year students in the department have been building these models since 2001. The wings on last year’s model, which was the third, bent badly when they tried to get it off the ground, so this year’s group of seniors added some pipes for support. They’ve spent about five hours a week on the project since April (the start of Japan’s school year).
The aircraft, which is a biplane, is seven meters long, 2.5 meters high, and has a 20-meter wingspan. The wings are made with aluminum pipe and Styrofoam to keep it light, and materials from an old car were cannibalized—well, recycled—to build the pilot’s mount. The propeller is turned by operating foot pedals. With the pilot on board, the plane weighs about 100 kilograms.

The lads got up bright and early on the 18th and began assembling the craft at 9:00 a.m. After a third-year student crawled into the cockpit, the other members of the project team pulled him and the plane with ropes to give them a running start. It got two meters off the ground and flew for a distance of 20 meters.

No, it didn’t alter the course of human history, but it sounds like a fun project for boys at a vocational high school. I would have gotten a kick out of doing it when I was 18.

Besides, they have something in common with the Wright Brothers—their first flights took place in a December!

One Response to “Japanese high school boys: Coming in on a wing and a prayer”

  1. Rick said

    THIS is real education. Projects that require you to not only learn the subject matter, but require you to think and actually use it.

    I think these kids may one day make some outstanding engineers for Japan. Maybe they’ll work on the Honda Jet or Japan’s stealth fighter. You never know but that school is giving those kids a leg up on their American (and Chinese) counterparts.

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