WSU Students Invent Dolly for Broken-Down Small Airplanes

When a small, piston-powered aircraft gets a flat tire and blocks the sole runway at your rural airport, you can’t exactly call the auto club.

“Bottom line, your runway is closed,” said Angie Johannsen, vice president of Redtail Aviation, which owns airports in Moab and Price. “Planes cannot land or take off. You need the damaged aircraft off the runway ASAP.”

But Cessnas and other small planes aren’t tow-friendly, and trying to drag the aircraft to one side for repairs often results in destruction of the wheel system. The only other option is to fly in an airplane mechanic with tools for on-the-spot repairs, but that takes both money and time.

What Redtail Aviation needed was a device to slide under the damaged wheel, to jack it up slightly, and to employ a dolly system so the whole plane could be towed safely off the runway.

But no such device existed, at least according to an exhaustive Internet search the company conducted.

Enter the student engineers of Weber State University, and a senior project nicknamed Cessna Saver.

“Redtail has had a problem for years with airplanes getting flat tires and closing the whole place down,” said Mason Winters, a graduating senior in the WSU manufacturing and design engineering technology program, and the husband of Johannsen.

“It happened three to five times a year. My wife asked me to build something for them at about the same time I had to propose a senior project.”

Winters, 25, was joined by five other engineering technology students who signed on for Team Cessna Saver. They spent one semester designing their invention, and one semester testing, revising and perfecting their steel prototype. Redtail Aviation funded the project, paying $1,500 for materials and tools.

And Redtail Aviation is now the proud owner of the world’s only two Cessna Savers, universal jack-dolly devices that can handle tires as wide as 30 inches and airplanes weighing as much as 8,400 pounds.

“It seemed like a fairly feasible task,” Winters recalled. “Engineering is taking your knowledge and using it to solve problems. It’s a really important field, and it’s not that hard. It just takes education and effort.”

Winters has split his time between Ogden and Price during school, and has a post-graduation job waiting for him in California. He used weekend trips home to Price to test prototypes for the Cessna Saver.

Senior projects serve as the capstone to a Weber State education, said Glen West, program coordinator for WSU’s engineering technology program.

“It gives our students the opportunity to showcase their skills and bring together everything we’ve tried to teach them over the course of a four-year engineering technology education.”

Inventing the Cessna Saver will look good in team members’ engineering portfolios, West said.

“Engineering and design accomplishments are really hard to describe with words on a resume,” he said. “Drawings and power-point presentations, and in this case, video of the device in operation, lifting an aircraft and towing it, is much better at showing what you can do.”

By graduation, student portfolios typically include work on several projects as well as information from internships, West said.

Winters said Redtail Aviation and several of the student engineers are in early talks about marketing the Cessna Saver, and several patents are in the works. The device will be renamed prior to any commercial sales.

“That will be a little down the road,” Winters said. “But I think there’s a market. There are more than 5,000 small, rural airports in the United States.”

West estimates 80 to 90 percent of his engineering technology graduates leave college with a job or find employment within a few months of graduation.

“I can only think of a few students who haven’t had jobs when they left, and that was mostly a result of students not taking the initiative to find a job,” he said. “You are definitely employable when you graduate from the engineering technology programs.”

West thinks more students would get excited about the study program at Weber State if they didn’t let the word “engineering” intimidate them.

“If the word makes you nervous, you don’t understand what we do for a living,” West said. “Just take a look around your world. Pretty much everything you see was designed by either an engineer or an engineer technologist. Buildings, lights in buildings, cellphones, cars — any machinery was designed by somebody. It’s a career field that can take you where you want to go.”

Source: Nancy Van Valkenburg

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