Hillsboro junior pulls off trifecta at TSA nationals

Erich Herbel holds the third-place trophy he and classmate Chase Meisinger earned in the Structural Engineering contest at the Technology Student Association?s national convention in Orlando, Fla., last week. Herbel also placed among the top 10 in Drag?ster Design and Flight Endurance, becoming the first Hills?boro High School contestant to earn three top-10 finishes. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press Hillsboro High School junior Erich Herbel pulled off a rare Triple Crown of sorts last week by finishing among the top 10 in each of his three competitions at the national convention of the Tech?no?l?ogy Student Associa?tion in?Orlando, Fla.

Herbel placed third with teammate Chase Meisinger in the Structural Engineer division, and individually he finished fourth in Dragster Design and ninth in Flight Endurance.

?I was kind of surprised,? Herbel said of the accomplishment. ?I wasn?t thinking I was going to place in all of them, but with how things were going there, it was looking pretty good.?

This is the third year Herbel has placed among the top 10 at the national level. As a freshman, he placed second in Flight Endur?ance; as a sophomore he finished fourth in Flight Endur?ance and made the top 10 with teammate Ben Loewen in Problem Solving.

?I?m relatively sure this is the first time we?ve had one person with three top 10s,? said Creigh Bell, the TSA adviser at HHS. ?I recalled a couple that had established two top 10s (in a given year), but I could not recall any that have had three.?

TSA has been active at Hills?boro High since the 2003-04 school year; the chapter competed at state in spring 2005 and qualified its first students for nationals in 2006-07, according to Bell.

Structural Design

In the Structural Design competition, Herbel and Meisinger had 21?2 hours to create a beam made out of balsa wood and paper that was 2 inches by 2 inches by 12 inches.

?You have to know your design, and they give you about an hour to draw it,? he said. ?Once you?re done with that, you turn in your drawing and you starting building.?

Herbel and Meisinger won the state competition in spring with a design that was 16 inches long.

?The one we took to state was very simply, actually,? Herbel said. It finally snapped at 143 pounds of pressure, which is determined by a stress analyzer.

Between state and nationals, Herbel and Meisinger consulted with Tom Kaufman, an engineer at Hillsboro Industries.

?We asked him about it, and used his ideas to figure out what stress points needed to go where,? Herbel said.

?Through?out the summer we tried a couple of different designs,? he added. ?When you test, it really helps you figure out where the stress points really happen. It just takes a lot of practice.?

At nationals, where the length of the beam was designated as 12 inches, Herbel and Meisinger?s entry supported 191 pounds.

?We were amazed by that,? Herbel said. ?We topped the other team that was there, but it was probably because it was so heavy. That brought us down.?

Herbel said working with a partner has advantages and disadvantages.

?In some ways it?s harder because you?re both trying to do stuff,? he said. ?But really it?s kind of nice because somebody can cut the wood, and somebody can glue it together.?

Dragster design

This was the first year Herbel competed in Dragster Design. The challenge is to design and build a balsa-wood dragster powered by carbon dioxide.

The project began in the classroom fairly early in the school year. Much of the year is spent tinkering with the design, which can be tested for wind resistance and other qualities.

?I think I had the best times there,? Herbel said about his results at nationals. ?The one (time) I saw was 0.877 seconds. I ended up making it to the semifinals. I wasn?t able to be there, but the friend who was there said I won the first (race), lost the next one, then won the next one, so I finished fourth.?

Flight endurance

This was Herbel?s third year to compete in Flight Endurance. Prior to the national convention he was able to keep his balsa-wood plane, powered by a wound rubber band, in the air for 2 minutes, 20 seconds.

?Maybe (the air) was heavier when you travel over to Orlando, but my first flight was 2:06,? Herbel said. ?That was a good one, and I think that was the crucial one. That was the one that allowed me to place in the top 10.?

The second flight lasted 1:48, but Herbel said he did manage to pull off two perfect landings, which added 10 seconds to the flight time.

Secrets to success

Bell credited Herbel?s success at nationals to his skills and perseverance.

?He?s endeavored to remain involved with multi events, and has used what time he?s had in his busy schedule to refine his projects and his skills and has surfaced as a succes in his events. That?s what it takes.

?The more events that you?re in, the tougher it is. To be top 10 in three, that takes quite a bit of effort.?

With a full part-time job at Hillsboro True Value, Herbel has excelled even though his discretionary time has diminished.

Bell said what makes Herbel?s accomplishments even more impressive is that contestants are not classified by the size of their school.

?Those guys are up against students from high schools like from back east in Massa?chu?setts,? Bell said. ?They actually have tech prep high schools, and some of these kids are trying to head to MIT.

?These are the guys we?re up against?(engineering) is their career. They?re locked on and they plan to spend the next $150,000, or better, on their education at some renowned school.?

Joining Herbel and Meisinger at Orlando was another junior, Garrett Foster, who competed in Dragster Design.

?I?m very pleased with what we?ve done (at nationals),? Bell said.

Herbel said he hopes to compete at that level again next year, and in the same three events. If he finishes among the top 10 as a senior, he would be the first HHS student to do so all four years.

But it won?t be easy, Bell said.

?We?re learning that the competition is stiffening,? he said. ?In fact, I was told by a friend who worked with a high school student in Alabama that they had flights of three minutes or better. In my years (with TSA contests), I have not even seen a three-minute flight.

?If we?re not going to fly near those times, we?re going to take a backseat to those people who are.?

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