MIDDLEBURG HEIGHTS, OH — The students in the Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning (Hvac) program at Polaris Career Center here are at it again.

Last year the students were involved in a pumpkin-launching contest sponsored by local radio station WGAR. It involved tossing a 10-lb pumpkin as far as possible using compressed air, a catapult, centrifuge, or any other means to toss it. No explosives were allowed. The students elected to use compressed air.

They won.

Following this local competition, the students decided they wanted to compete at the Lewis Delaware national competition.

Designing a better launcher

The planning started almost immediately. Jim Luteran, project director, submitted a plan to the Polaris Board of Education. This plan also gained support from program director Dr. Linda Schwarzbach, and Bob Timmons, the Industrial Engineering team leader.

Once everything was finalized, the nationals were only 400 miles away.

Tom Angelici organized a group of 15 students to help design and build a new launcher and modify the original launcher, The Pumpkin Eater. Karl Kishman, Precision Machine Trades instructor; Mike Takatch, Graphic Arts instructor; Herb Baker, Building Maintenance instructor; and John Haynes, Welding Coor-dinator, assisted.

It was decided that two launchers would participate in the competition: the original Pumpkin Eater and the new, unnamed Mega-launcher.

Angelici’s latest idea was to launch a pumpkin and recover it with a parachute. He and Kishman worked on this with Lisa Seitz and Mike Ziska, two students from Computer-Assisted Drafting. The students helped design and draw a new triangular fulcrum to pivot the large air tank using hydraulic cylinders to achieve an 85-degree launch angle.

The hydraulics were donated and designed by John Ballett, Polaris school board member and vice president of Babson Fluid Power. He worked with a group of students teaching them basic hydraulics.

Modern Tool and Die Prototype Development manager Paul Fortlage provided several donations and was available to help the students with production. The students ran out of time on the parachute-recovery project, but the redesigned launcher was ready for competition.

We'd like to thank the industry ...

Angelici’s design for the new Mega-launcher was complete and ready for construction. The design required the use of three 1,000-gal propane tanks with a common manifold.

Due to the height and weight of the launcher, a 48-ft semi-trailer and tractor (provided by W.K. Vaughan Trucking) was required to transport the unit. Gregg Gresko, the vice president of Marlin Mechanical, a Cleveland, OH-based industrial hvac contractor, was contacted to fabricate the three into one manifold. Three weeks later, Gresko delivered the manifold. It fit perfectly to the tanks.

The design required that the tanks be lifted prior to firing. Jack Swan, vice president of All Erection and Crane Co., a Cleveland-based firm, donated a turret from a Grove 60 Crane and 65 ft of jib to support the barrel. Gile Tojek, president of Midland Steel Products, donated steel frame rails for the trailer.

Chews up pumpkins, spits them out

With materials in hand, the team went to work. Five months and hundreds of student and community hours later the Mega-launcher, still untested, was ready to fire.

Just prior to the national competition, the original Pumpkin Eater traveled to Morton, IL, to compete at the Morton Pumpkin festival. The student team placed second in the Junior Division with a shot of 2,743 ft (just over a half mile). Both launchers were then transported to Delaware.

This would be the first time the Mega-launcher was tested.

Unfortunately, it didn’t fare as well as expected due to a hydraulic failure. The Mega-launcher, mounted on a semi-trailer, couldn’t be elevated to the correct angle needed to make a distance shot. With some modifications, the goal is to reach 1 mile.

The smaller Pumpkin Eater launcher, manned by students, stood true to form. It placed second in the Junior National Event.

New challenge: The nutcracker

With pumpkin-launching season behind them for another year, the students in Angelici’s hvac class came to him early in December with an idea for a nutcracker made almost entirely of sheet metal.

A plan was made and production began immediately. The students successfully faced the challenge of completing construction in 10 days.

The unit was constructed using 26-ga sheet metal, a 36-in. beach ball for a head (a combination of fiber glass and hardener were used to reinforce it, like papier maché) and wood for the shoes.

The students used a variety of skills, including math, geometry, and problem solving. The junior and senior students became so competitive that they started to come in after school to work on the project.

The finished product was so impressive, that Shelley Gaffga, assistant superintendent of the Polaris Joint Vocational School District, requested that the 15-ft-tall nutcracker “stand guard” at the entrance of the school during the holiday season. The students and the nutcracker were also featured in a local newspaper.

Angelici thinks that it is great to work in such a progressive school. Involving industry and the community proved to be a great success. He says projects like this help keep students motivated and interested. This project also afforded the students the opportunity to show pride in their school and their work.

So, what’s next? Angelici says he is thinking about a propane-powered sheet metal train to circle the school at Easter. Based on the current track record of this team, there are no doubts that this plan will reach a successful completion.

To learn more about these projects, contact Tom Angelici: 440-891-7667; tangelic@polaris.edu (e-mail).

Sidebar: Tech solution: get 'em while they're young

The Polaris Career Center has the following mission statement: teaching the career, technical, and life skills necessary to gain meaningful employment, add value to the workplace, and advance in career.

Open since September of 1975, Polaris is a career training facility for high school students (grades 11 and 12) and adults (full-time training, pre-employment training, business-industry training, etc.).

The high school training program offers 26 career training programs for students in the areas of agriculture, business-office education, computer networking, health and related services, home economics, marketing, trade and industry, and special needs.

Included among them is the hvac training program that the students in these two projects were enrolled in.

To find out more, contact the program office at 440-891-7600.