Dennis Milliken marveled as he picked up the trophy to honor the group of Kamiakin High School students who recently won the state's Real World Design Governor's Challenge.
"Well, look at this. One, two, three, four," said Milliken of the four engraved plates showing the consecutive -- and annual -- victories by Team Sandy Planes.
Milliken, supervisor of career and technical education for the Superintendent of Public Instruction, has never given the state award to any school other than Kamiakin since it was initiated four years ago.
Only two members of the 2011 Kamiakin team that took second place nationally remain. But the group is tight-knit, bonded by congruent interests in aviation, engineering and science. And they are inspired, not intimidated, by the team's history.
"It was something we really had to live up to," said 17-year-old junior Joe Luey, who was on the team last year.
The competition is part of a public-private partnership aimed at increasing interest in career fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Federal agencies such as NASA, the Defense Department and industry partners have sponsored the competition. This year, more than 600 teams entered the nationwide challenge.
Students began meeting in September to discuss, coordinate and plan the project.
Team coach Terrance Casey, a Kennewick architect, said this year's challenge was different from before. In the past, teams were tasked with commercial aircraft projects.
This year, teams were told to design a light sport aircraft that could carry two passengers 200 miles in less than two hours. And each needed to meet Federal Aviation Administration criteria.
Such planes are of simpler design and don't have as stringent of certification requirements to operate as commercial planes, but Casey and the students said they were challenged by the broadness of the class of aircraft.
"It seems like there's more variety in this category compared to what we can do," said Cooper Atkinson, a 16-year-old junior.
The team met weekly and were able to use three software programs, which were valued at $1 million but provided free in order to design and test their prototype -- named Alpaca.
"It was short for 'I'll pack a parachute,' " Luey said, laughing.
Team members visited a man who rebuilds aircraft, and found national and international experts willing to accept questions or offer advice.
Casey said students sometimes didn't realize the amount of work needed to meet deadlines. That led to some scrambling, and there were some mistakes they needed to fix.
"I accidentally deleted the licensing file for my drafting software," said 17-year-old junior Kyle Deatherage.
In the end, the group submitted an 81-page document for the competition. It includes calculations and equations for developing the craft's wings, the team's research and various renderings of the airplane.
The group continues to refine its designs and data for the national competition in April in Washington, D.C.
Team Sandy Planes is changing its wing shape, making the craft more energy efficient and detailing a projected flight from Kitty Hawk, N.C., to Dayton, Ohio.
The Kamiakin students are confident with the design, even though it will be reviewed by national and global experts in aviation, engineering and science.