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GCC students test their wings

A Germanna Community College student declared it the “moment of truth.”

He and other students in a physics class were about to launch homemade gliders from the third-floor terrace of Germanna’s Science and Engineering Building in Spotsylvania County.

The end-of-semester project would make up 5 percent of their final grades.

Up first was a glider that had been randomly named “Larry the Dragon.”

For an encouraging few seconds, “Larry” flew in a straight line. But then it slowly veered to the left before crashing into a leafy tree about 90 feet from the terrace.

It was literally downhill from there. A couple of the gliders, including an impressive looking aircraft with a 7-foot wingspan, nosedived onto the grassy area below.

Students got two more tries, though the results were largely the same.

But student Vincent Adkins, 26, put the experience into perspective: “We haven’t failed. We discovered a way that doesn’t work.”

Physics professor Mirela Fetea separated the students—many of whom are majoring in engineering—into five teams for the assignment, the first of its kind for her class. The gliders were judged by two deans and three department chairs, who took into consideration design aesthetics, originality and, yes, distance traveled.

The gliders were constructed from balsa wood, superglue and other material.

“I think the whole point for me is the journey, not the end result,” said Fetea, who said the assignment emphasized teamwork.

“Larry the Dragon,” the glider that crashed into the tree, was declared the winner. “We just never got quite the right balance, but it still worked,” said student Chris O’Hara, 19, who was part of the winning team.

Fetea closed out the class with some reassuring words. “You are all winners in our hearts, right,” she said with a smile.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402