It could have gone either way for the Thunderhawk team from Wheatland High School, Grainfield, when the propeller blade fell off their wind turbine at the annual KidWind Challenge in Topeka in late March.

“We almost had a catastrophic failure,” said Wheatland math teacher Diane Wetter, “but they got it back together.”

As it turned out, the Thunderhawk team — juniors Colter Allemang, Kyler Haffner, Jordan Katt and Harrison Stephens, and senior Andrew Taylor — took second place.

Winners in the annual statewide contest for middle and high-school students, which is sponsored by Kansas State University’s Engineering Extension, were chosen on several factors, including a 15-question quiz about wind power, their presentation to a panel of judges describing how they designed their wind turbine, the energy output and the uniqueness of their turbine.

As winners, the boys are now on their way to the national KidWind Challenge in Houston, which takes place during the American Wind Energy Association conference from May 21-23.

“This group of boys, their imagination, their creativity, is just amazing,” Wetter said. “They are an awesome group of boys.”

The KidWind project was done as part of Wheatland High School's Applied Technology class, which just started this year. The Thunderhawks took second at the regional competition in Oakley in early March.

The boys have been working to improve their wind turbine’s performance, said Wetter, who along with Mark Heier and Todd Flinn, teaches the Applied Technology class.

For purposes of the contest, a turbine’s output is measured in the energy output in joules of the turbine fans running over the course of a minute. The Kansas winner in 2018 reached 125 joules, Wetter said.

The Thunderhawk’s turbine initially started out at a very low two joules, but through lots of research, trying different materials, redesigning the blade shape, and changing blade angle and making other adjustments, the boys increased that.

“Their final reading at state was at 48 joules,” Wetter said, noting they used the ball bearings from fidget spinners on the inside of their turbine. During another test they reached 60 joules.

“They are pretty well-rounded, but they all have that problem-solving ability and they are hands-on — that is a real strength of theirs,” Wetter said. “These boys are determined to be competitive.”