KNOB NOSTER, Mo. — They’re young, but they’re very smart.
A group of students from Knob Noster High School is working with the United States Air Force. Those teenagers, who comprise the high school’s Stealth Panther 6424 Robotics team, manufactured a small gadget that’s saving the U.S. military a heap of money.
Knob Noster, population roughly 2,700, is 65 miles east of Kansas City, and the town sits beside Whiteman Air Force Base.
Little things can make big differences. The kids on the robotics team are proving that. They spend hours each week perfecting their engineering and STEM skills in a giant workshop at the school.
In late 2018, leaders at nearby Whiteman Air Force Base asked them to design a protective cover for an electrical switch box that now sits inside the cockpit of every B2 bomber.
“It easily peels off, and then, it sticks right back on,” sophomore Jenna Moreland demonstrated for FOX4, ripping and replacing the Velcro cover from the grey plastic box.
The plastic cover is simple to manufacture. Students showed off the thin switch box cover that was created on a 3-D printer in just three days.
The Air Force commissioned the students to create 33 of them, one for each B2 bomber, after pilots complained the switches on the box were perilously close to being triggered by something as simple as a tangled headset cord.
“This is just a small part. We made it for $1.50. It’s saving the United States Air Force $10 billion. It’s saving their lives. You can’t put a price on that,” Moreland said, smiling.
Knob Noster High tech teacher Chris Adams, a former military member himself, explained that if all four switches underneath the cover were to be flipped together, the bomber would be forced to make an emergency landing.
Knob Noster students spent time inside bomber simulators at Whiteman to ensure they made the design perfect. Adams said it was his students success at national First Robotics competitions that drew the Air Force to incorporate his students’ interest in creating this safety precaution.
“There’s always that kind of ‘oh no.’ That’s a lot of pressure, but I was really happy to know I would have a hand in something that would affect something much larger than me and my town,” junior Gabe Gish said.
“It has been amazing,” Adams said. “(Students) have to know that here in America, we can still innovate. It doesn’t have to go off-shore. We can still design and build and wake the sleeping giant again for their generation to solve the problems we’re leaving them.”
First Robotics is a national technology education program that concentrates on STEM-based education, issuing teams a group task to accomplish while competing in an atmosphere that resembles a sporting event. Adams said a team of his students advanced to the finals of the First Robotics World Championships in Houston, Texas, in mid-2018.
Moreland said Air Force pilots have even befriended their First Robotics team, and one is even working as a mentor to guide their progress.