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Author's profile photo Marian Harris

Mentoring kids to fly high at the 2015 Hiller Aero Design Challenge

A team of 22 SAP volunteers supported the annual Aero Design Challenge at the Hiller Aviation Museum in Silicon Valley.  This exciting event uses the design thinking approach to get kids, ages 8 – 12, excited about engineering, science and technology via aviation. Over 400 children participated in this year’s event.

SAP volunteers included members from SAP’s SET team, Design & Co-Innovation Center, PI Innovation team, Innovation Services team, Cloud CRM, GPO Business Development, Demand Center, and more!  In fact, SAP provided the largest number of volunteers at the event. We came together as a team to help run the event as part of SAP’s Month of Service. 


Pictured above are SAP’s team Alpha, Echo and Foxtrot.  Each team mentored groups of kids in the day’s event

This year’s challenge: Design a better propeller

Phase 1 – Synthesize:

After a brief orientation, the participants and

volunteerswent through six learning
throughout the museum to
learn more about aerodynamics, lift,
pitch, and power. 

They also learned about the evolution of
aircraft design, and the new
aviation including increasing
efficiency and how to
leverage more
sustainable power  sources – even solar
electric powered aircraft!


Part 2 – Ideate:
Moving onto the challenge! One element of
increasing efficiency
involves a closer look
at the propeller design. This year’s Aero

Design Challenge focused squarely on

rethinking  propeller design.

Groups of 4 – 8 children then brainstormed
ideas, loosely following a design thinking
approach for 40 minutes.


Part 3 – Prototype and Test:

After selecting their favorite ideas, children
moved down to fabrication stations to try
out their ideas using simple materials to
craft their propellers
and test them out to
see if they could generate lift.

As bold ideas met reality and blew apart
on the testing station, light bulbs
went off
and the kids
scurried back to the fabrication
tables to try again,
gaining more confidence
each iteration.


Part 4: Implement: After approximately 40
minutes of fabrication, teams
had a chance
to present their creations to Hiller’s board of
aviation experts.

The panelists asked questions, shared
some insight and encouraged the
to continue to look at how their ideas
could be pushed farther.

The challenge provided a safe and

judgment-free environment for the
aspiring engineers to learn from
their experience.


Throughout the event, SAP volunteers served as mentors during the Ideation and Prototype and Test phases, employing their experience and training in Design Thinking.  In addition to helping and encouraging kids to think through the design process and pursue their ideas, volunteers helped ensure safety, focus on the task at hand, and motivate the kids to test out their ideas early, and often.

“I really enjoyed this volunteer opportunity.  I’d driven by the museum many times wondering what was inside – With a plane mounted to the roof, it was hard to miss from the highway. It was a pleasant surprise to learn what was inside; I hope this event repeats in the future!”, said Saye Arumugan, Senior Director S/4 HANA Finance Co-Innovation – North America.

Janaki Kumar, Head of the Design and Co-Innovation Center and her team provide SAP customers with expert guidance in the Design Thinking process in software design.  At the Hiller Aero Design Challenge, they employed their expertise as mentors to the children.

“I had no idea what a treasure trove of fun and engaging displays were here, like amazing aircraft and engines, historical accounts of aviation’s path of innovation, and so many educational hands-on activities – very cool and unexpected.”  Janaki explained, “It was really neat to watch kids get excited and engaged with aviation, and see first-hand the inspiration and curiosity that aviation triggers with youth. It was awesome to guide them using design thinking to brainstorm, design and test an innovative propeller fueled by electricity.” Janaki concluded.

Following the event, SAP volunteers were invited to an airport hangar party in Half Moon Bay co-hosted by SAP’s Aviation & Pilots Association and a local Aerobatic club (IAC Chapter 38).  Looking forward to 2016, plans are already underway to participate again during the 2016 SAP Month of Service, getting involved earlier to help improve the program together with the Hiller Aviation Museum.

Come and see it for yourself!

The Hiller Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate Museum, is just 10 minutes south of the San Francisco Airport. It’s a great place to visit in you’re at any of the SAP offices in Silicon Valley, where you can also see how SAP customer sponsors like Boeing and more have also contributed to the Hiller Aviation Museum, not just with their financial support, but also with their own history and innovation in aviation.

See more photos of the event on the SAP CSR & Month of Service photo repository here!


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