Students test wind turbines at state competition

Paola Middle School students Sam Johnson and Aaron Koechner earned a second-place plaque during the State KidWind Challenge on March 30 in Topeka.

PAOLA - Paola was well represented March 30 during the State KidWind Challenge at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka.

The competition was by invitation only, as only the top two qualifying teams from the four regional competitions in both the fourth- through eighth-grade division and the ninth- through 12th-grade division were invited to participate in the state event.

A team from Paola Middle School, made up of eighth-grader Aaron Koechner and seventh-grader Sam Johnson, qualified for the state event by taking home second place during KidWind Challenge’s SE Kansas Regional on March 1 at the Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant in Burlington.

A team from Paola High School, made up of juniors Rowan West and Spencer Ryals who call themselves Westside, also qualified for the state event by taking home second place, as well as the Judge’s Choice Award, during the March 1 regional.

KidWind challenges the teams to design, build and test a functional, creative wind turbine. The turbines are then tested in a wind tunnel at the competition, and the students also take a knowledge quiz and present to the judge’s panel.

Paola Middle School teacher Shari Hudgeons, who helps advise the students with their projects, said both teams revamped the turbines they used in the regional competition.

“Rowan and Spencer originally used some Lego parts inside of their nacelle and foam board for their blades,” Hudgeons said. “This time they had 3D printed their entire turbine, and Rowan had machined all of the metal parts inside of the nacelle to make it more efficient. It looked really cool.”

When testing in the wind tunnel though, Hudgeons said one of the parts broke and so the energy output was very low. The Westside team ended up getting the Judge’s Choice Plaque.

“This is a high honor considering there were judges from the wind industry that helped to decide who won,” Hudgeons said.

The Westside team was one of the first teams that competed in the KidWind Challenge for Paola Middle School when the members were eighth-graders, and they went on to compete at the national competition in New Orleans in 2016.

Paola Middle School students Aaron Koechner and Sam Johnson also changed their turbine for the state event.

“At the previous competition, they had used Legos to make their gearbox and had issues with it breaking during the competition,” Hudgeons said. “This time, they 3D printed a new gearbox and kept reprinting gears until they got their turbine to function. It paid off. They finally had a full run in the wind tunnel (last time the longest run they had was 15 seconds before the gears slipped out and quit generating power).”

During their highest run, the middle school students ended up generating 35.5 Joules compared to 13 Joules at the last competition.

The performance earned the middle school team a second-place plaque and an invitation to represent the state of Kansas at the National KidWind Challenge in Houston.

“It was a very long couple of days, but they are stoked and eager to improve their design,” Hudgeons said.

Editor and Publisher Brian McCauley can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or

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