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High school building a hovercraft dynasty

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What do the  1970s Montreal Canadiens, 1980s New York Islanders, 1990s Edmonton Oilers and a high school in St. Boniface have in common?

All four went on four-year championship runs in which they achieved at the highest level.

Windsor Park Collegiate’s Hovercraft Team recently won another silver medal, to go with their gold and two silvers in 4 of the last 5 years at the annual Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Discovery Competition at the Convention Centre in mid-March.
That’s a pretty consistent record of success.

The CME competition involves creating a working hovercraft with a real life application. This year the students and teachers decided to make an eco-craft that could take research samples in and around Lake Winnipeg.

The smaller electric craft had a few advantages over a larger gas guzzling boat by dumping no gas-induced toxins into the water and by stealthily motoring through hard-to-get-to places without disturbing the habitat.

The craft itself had a small pump that was capable of taking water from an area and filling a small test tube for study. The students proposed that a small craft could be useful in small areas, where motor boats and even canoes might disturb too much sediment and mar research samples.

The project also involves the writing of a business plan explaining the details, timeline and finances of the project. For five consecutive years, the school has earned first place honours for its comprehensive business plan of the project.

Much of the credit for the success of the project goes to industrial arts teacher Jean-Luc Suszko, who works tirelessly with the students in creating a vision for the project, designing computer diagrams, generating prototypes, choosing eco-friendly materials and finding cost-effective parts.

Suszko believes that the project "brings real life problem-solving and teamwork experiences to school-based theories. It’s a real sense of accomplishment to not only finish this tough project, but to consistently stand on the podium as a winner."

Suszko gets a lot of help from the faculty of the school. The science department helps the students properly explain how, for example, Newton’s laws of motion impact on the movement of the craft.  

The English department helps the students write the business plan and practice their presentation before they stand in front a panel of engineers and professors.

The woodworking and graphic arts folks pitch in to help draw, create and cut out the chassis prototype.

The students also found sponsors such as  Canadian National, Duha Group,  Clearline Technologies, the Lake Winnipeg Foundation, the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium and International Institute for Sustainable Development help to offset the cost of hovercraft parts, share expertise about effective hovercraft design and offer insight about problems in the Lake Winnipeg watershed.

Deb Leiter, C.M.E. Human Resource Champion and key organizer of the competition, "wants to reinforce the importance of essential skills to youth and their teachers as the building blocks for all learning and introduce the linkage to successful careers in manufacturing by using Math, Science and  English in a fun, practical project like building a hovercraft."

This year’s students, most of whom were in grade 10, cross-pollinated many different high school courses. Briana Kelly, a Grade 10 student, noted that "it was definitely a challenge finding all the required skills to do this project and to apply them.  Many skills that we learned in school came together."

Brennen Wachal, the only Grade 12 member of the team, realized "how much I like working with mechanical things, taking things apart and putting them back together." He is planning to take mechanical engineering in the future.

OK, the event will never resemble Lafleur, Bossy or Gretzky streaking down a wing during their Stanley Cup dynasty runs, but it’s still a pretty cool achievement to stay on top of anything, let alone a hovercraft competition, for such an extended time.

And it’s darn exciting to watch these crafts in action. Check out the C.M.E. website to experience the thrill of hovercrafts facing off in head-to-head competition:

 Adriano Magnifico is a community correspondent for St. Boniface. You can contact him at

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