Team USA took second place in the Dec. 11-12 Romania World Championship Indoor Duration Model Airplanes Team challenge.
Three of the team members are cadets in the Albuquerque Heights Composite Squadron, also called Spirit Squadron. Cadets Odessa Wingall, Quinn Sorbello and Elijah Rose traveled to Romania alongside coach Chuck Andraka and fellow team member Guha Ekambram of Austin, Texas.
The competition took place in an abandoned salt mine where there is little wind and vast amounts of empty space to fly the model airplanes. The objective was to see who could fly their airplanes the highest for the longest duration. Each cadet had to build their own plane from balsa wood and thin mylar film. The planes have a wingspan of 55 centimeters, weigh 1.4 grams and are powered by a rubber band wound to about 1,200 turns.
“The world championship went well as hoped, as we placed second as a team against a strong Romanian junior team,” Andraka said in a Dec. 16 email. “The Romanians have home field advantage in the mine, so they are top notch.”
The competition: photos from inside the mine and cadet flight times
Sorbello and Rose had flights over 18 minutes and Wingall topped out at 17 minutes. The best adult competitors could typically keep their planes in the air for 25 minutes. Of the three Albuquerque cadets, Rose had the top score at 37:34, which is the sum of the best two flights out of six attempts. Sorbello had a score of 37:11 and Wingall 35:31.
Andraka said Wingall’s best plane struggled during the climb phase and had to use her second-best plane in most of the official flights. The three cadets spent endless hours building the planes on their own.
“There was strong suspicion that certain teams did not build their own planes, a violation of the rules but impossible to police,” Andraka said. “In practice, it was clear to all that our team followed the intent of the event with integrity.”
Andraka said it was his first time to the mine and the lessons learned will help future teams reach flight times over 20 minutes. He said Rose and Wingall are juniors and will have another chance if they decide to compete again.
“Their accomplishments this year took several hundred hours of time devoted to building, testing, repairing and competing,” Andraka said. “Their love of flight and competition drive them through the exhaustion to this successful trip.”