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W.C. Miller builds the best hovercraft in the province

Lori Penner

A group of W.C. Miller students have been named top in the province for a hovercraft they designed for a manufacturing competition in Winnipeg.

The annual Discovery Program competition is organized by Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, and this year, a total of 21 teams from across the province competed in the semi-finals.

"We were up against some huge city schools with a budget of $3,000 for their projects," said instructor Trevor Friesen-Stoesz. "For us to come in first is pretty impressive, considering that ours was just over $400."

Each team had to design and build a radio-controlled hovercraft, and also present a business plan to a panel of industry and education judges.

The hovercrafts were judged for lift, load and propulsion on a manoeuvrability track and a drag race track.

The five member team consisting of Jeffrey Rempel, Caleb Toews, Matt Kehler, Braxtyn Unger and Karlyn Fehr spent months designing the perfect hovercraft. Each of them had very specific roles to play in its construction and performance.

Rempel designed the reverse system, which gave their craft an edge over the 11 other models they faced at the finals in March. The 3D model designed by Matt Kehler gave them a more graphic concept of how all the parts would come together. Fehr, whose main role was assembly, also designed the skirt which gave the hovercraft enough lift to successfully complete the required tasks in the competition.

Unger acted as team photographer and helped write a winning business plan. Toews also helped compile the presentation, but his key role was piloting their creation.

Toews said their great team dynamics had a lot to do with their success. "Our small group worked well together."

The competition has evolved since its first event four years ago. "They seem to take it up a notch every year," said Friesen-Stoesz. "The first year, the vehicles were very rudimentary, but each year they've become more refined and complex."

The hovercraft shone in the course aspect of the competition, running fastest in the drag race, and lifting 1,000 grams of weight, well above the 400 gram requirement.

Rempel said preparing and delivering their business plan to the judges was a nerve-wracking experience. The Miller team came up with a marketing plan to assemble low-cost hovercraft kits which could be used by Jr. high school science classes.

Kehler said it was a great experience, which touched on many aspects of education, including math, physics, English, accounting, and computer animation.

The team will receive more than $30,000 in scholarships and bursaries, which is a great prize for several of the team members who plan to pursue technical careers.

The group proudly donned their best suits for a gala event in Winnipeg last week, to receive accolades for their accomplishment. "They put in a lot of time and effort, and I'm really proud of them," said Friesen-Stoesz. "This prize was very well-deserved."