College Students Make First-Ever Successful Flight And Landing Of A Concrete Airplane

"I was freaked, because I was really close to it and was worried it was going to hit me."

Throughout the storied history of aviation, humankind has fought to slip the surly bonds of Earth using heavier and heavier things. To do it, airplanes need to be lightweight, or have really big wings and a lot of speed. But can a heavy, slow object get off the ground? To find out, a trio of students from South Dakota School of Mines & Technology set out to make aviation history. They built a super-heavy, completely impractical airplane: One made from concrete. And it worked. Kind of.

It did not soar. It did not travel far. It did not get more than a few inches off the ground, and it did not fly straight. It flipped over and crashed, is what it did. But it got off the ground, flew, landed, and survived!

The only other concrete airplane known to have flown was built at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., a prestigious flight school. But that plane was destroyed when it crashed. Not so for this hardy plane from the Great Plains. The main goal was for it to take off and survive landing: Mission accomplished.

David Haberman and Tyler Pojanowski, both mechanical engineering majors, and Seth Adams, a civil and environmental engineering major, worked on the plane for a year. Pojanowski recalls that he was afraid of what would happen, even though his calculations said it would work.

“There wasn’t much time because once it got air it just went over, it flipped over. I was freaked because I was really close to it and was worried it was going to hit me,” Pojanowski says in a news release.

Haberman said he saw a puff of smoke and thought the plane had exploded. It only sustained a crack in the fuselage and wing, but was otherwise OK.

“Everything in aviation you want to be high-strength and low-weight, and concrete is the exact opposite. That’s why the professors did the project, to challenge engineers, to see what we could do,” Haberman said.

The students think it worked in part because of a special university concrete blend, which was developed for another totally bizarre engineering project, a concrete canoe. Because why not.