photograph by Marci Lambert
Winners Sabrina Curley & Vance Hudson
Vance Hudson’s father made a point of taking him out to dinner one night. As the 16-year-old finished dessert, his dad, Bill, hinted he had news about Vance’s entry in a helicopter design competition. Vance recalled the projects he had worked on in Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS) and his STEM class at school. “It took me a second to remember what it was,” he says with a grin.
But top engineers who reviewed his design deemed it too good to forget. Last September, Vance entered the national Sikorsky Helicopter 2050 Challenge, a competition that invites youth ages 9 to 16 to plot smart designs that anticipate global issues in the year 2050.
The judges weighed 500 entries and awarded the grand prize to Vance’s electrically-driven, multi-purpose design. The teen received the 2013 Igor Sikorsky Youth Innovator Award, a $1,000 scholarship check, and a trip to Sikorsky Aircraft headquarters in Connecticut.
The Collierville High School sophomore learned about the competition in STEM class with his teacher, Shelli Brasher. To prepare, he watched resource videos posted on the company’s website, and brainstormed with classmates. Then he began shaping a helicopter that would be useful for humanitarian missions while economical to operate. Three weeks later, he finished the blueprint. “I came up with the idea because many countries can’t afford multiple types of emergency aircraft,” explains Vance. “One air frame that can serve different purposes reduces cost and would be able to help people immediately.”
Taking it to the next level
His S-2050 design includes a detachable main section that could be left behind as a resource for those on the ground, with the potential to be outfitted as a functional medical center. Heat from solar panels recharges batteries and the aircraft could be flown with or without a crew.
In an odd twist, Vance’s design echoes one the company’s founder, Igor Sikorsky, was working on near the time of his death. “Vance’s design stood out when the judges saw that he has a mind like Sikorsky. But Vance’s design is a more current version that addresses carbons emissions that weren’t an issue in the 1970s,” says Brasher. “Some students chose one focus, such as an alternative power source or lightweight materials. Vance incorporated many.”
In November, the teen traveled to company headquarters with his father, sister Anna, and Basher to receive his award. As the grand prize winner, he got to sit at Sikorsky’s desk and try on his favorite fedora. He also toured the plant’s production line where Black Hawk™ and Seahawk™ helicopters are assembled for the U.S. Army and Navy.
The staff encouraged Vance to take his design to the next level, and executives plan to offer an internship to him next summer. Vance is drawn to both medicine and mechanical engineering. If he pursues engineering, he can tap a professional network in his own family, as three uncles are engineers. His father works in information technology.
With the $1,000 scholarship check, he’ll purchase a computer and software. The technology will get him up to speed for next semester’s First Robotics International Competition. Starting with parts, he’ll build, tweak, and control a functioning robot.
Vance never misses meetings of the Robotics Club and JETS. Through Jr. JETS, he mentors his sister, a student at Collierville Middle School. He encourages peers to explore the fun challenges the clubs offer. “If you want to do it, but think you don’t have time, make the time. It’s a rewarding experience to complete something you tried hard on.”
Sabrina Curley, a junior at Collierville High, also scored in the Sikorsky Helicopter 2050 Challenge. She was one of four finalists. Sabrina calls her helicopter “The N.U.W.O.R” (Nuclear Waste Obtainer and Rescuer). It was designed to reduce radioactive materials as well as locate and treat survivors in the event of a nuclear meltdown. Says Brasher, “It’s surreal to have two of my students win; it’s like winning the lottery.”
• View winning entries at helicopter2050.com