Cadet research benefits Falcon Stadium

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Meredith Kirchoff
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Two cadets majoring in mechanical engineering devoted their senior capstone research project to studying the heating system under the synthetic turf football field of Falcon Stadium.

Cadets 1st Class Caleb Becker and Ben Saunders simulated the functioning of the heating system in order to determine the minimum amount of time the heater would need to be turned on to eliminate any ice from the field before game time.

"We geared our research toward a real-world scenario," said Cadet Saunders, the squadron commander for Cadet Squadron 15. "Based upon what we heard from the stadium staff, we thought it could be of some benefit."

Theirs is the second of two independent studies on the heating system from cadets in the Department of Engineering Mechanics. The first was accomplished by now-2nd Lt. Will Parker, a Class of 2009 graduate who developed a spreadsheet using an electrical analogy for the transfer of heat through the layers of the turf. The model could be manipulated to reflect average temperatures and winds for December at the Air Force Academy, but the cadets needed to refine the model by adding a layer of ice to the already defined layers of turf for the most recent research endeavors.

The system received an upgrade in heating capacity when artificial turf was installed in 1997, but when the field was resurfaced again in 2006, the resistance heater was left in its current state. Adding the layer of ice to simulate a realistic scenario without available historic data was one of the most difficult parts of the project, said Cadet Becker of CS 07.

"Trying to figure out what was under the field, especially the amount of water present, since we could not dig up the turf was also tough," he added.

Normally, stadium management turns on the heating system a week before a game where weather that might result in ice on the field is anticipated.

"We were doing that because we didn't know how long it would take to get it up to temperature with the rubber layer of the turf," said Mike Wehrmann, Falcon Stadium manager.

"We found that the heater could be effective to melt layers of ice off the field up to 3/8 inch in 24 hours," Cadet Becker said of the results of their research. "They could save about $2,600 per game by turning it on for one day instead of one week before the game."

Mr. Wehrmann said the heating system is typically used two or three times per football season.

"It's definitely going to help us with utility cost savings, and will be a big benefit to the Falcon Green initiative," he said, and explained that the Athletic Association is responsible for the utility bill for Falcon Stadium during football season.

"This is as real as it gets," said Dr. Mike Maixner, the professor leading the Engineering Mechanics 499 research course. Cadets' research will be published in the second paper of a two-part series on the heating system projects.

In research like this, "You can't check your answers in the back of the book," Cadet Becker said. "We had to make sure we were the ones getting the work done."

Cadets Becker and Saunders also had the opportunity to present their research findings at the Colorado Springs Undergraduate Research Forum April 10 at the University of Colorado - Colorado Springs.

The best part of doing this project was getting into the research mindset, Cadet Saunders said. "Not only did we have to solve the problem, we first had to define it for ourselves."

Cadet Saunders, a native of Katy, Texas, is a Draper scholar and will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study aeronautical engineering, while Cadet Becker, of Kingsport, Tenn., will enter pilot training at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., following graduation.

The cadets should be proud of what they have accomplished Dr. Maixner said.
"I didn't know the answer, they didn't know the answer, and that's why they did they research," he said.