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Turlocker presents 1966 turbo engine design to UNLV students
engine guy pic1
David Chovanak shows off The Rebel a micro turbine engine he designed and made out of spare parts and kitchen utensils in 1966 as a student at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal

David Chovanak made the long trek from Turlock to Las Vegas this week to present a unique invention to a group of engineering students. Chovanak built what might be the first known micro turbine engine out of spare parts and kitchen utensils in 1966 as a student at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (then Nevada Southern University).  He presented his invention — which he named The Rebel — to senior design students on the first day of their spring semester.

“These students will be doing their own paper designs this semester. (My presentation) was to get them motivated and excited about their own projects,” Chovanak said.

The interest around Chovanak’s invention came after his friend Mark Olsen posted a video about it on Youtube. Chovanak took his micro turbine engine apart for the video and explained each of its components and how it works. The engine is made of mostly household items, including a flour sifter and a family-sized tuna can.

Chovanak contacted UNLV’s College of Engineering about giving his engine to the university for display. He included a link to his Youtube video, and Dr. John Wang invited him to speak to a group of students. Wang’s class will be making their own paper designs this year, and Chovanak’s homemade engine was an example of creative ingenuity.

“I made this all out of kitchen hardware. There is an apple corer, parts from a vacuum cleaner, and a flour sifter,” Chovanak said.

Micro turbine engines are now in use in radio-controlled airplanes and other applications. These engines are smaller than the one Chovanak invented, but he said they followed at least 10 years after his design. Chovanak was drafted in the Vietnam War very shortly after inventing his engine, and he never had the chance to patent or promote it.

“My life took a different direction after that. But I managed to hold on to it for 46 years,” he said. 

Chovanak turned on the engine just once in 1966, to check that it worked. He tried it again in the 70s but something went wrong. The device is water cooled inside and Chovanak thinks the cooling system wasn’t working and that damaged the engine. He took the device completely apart recently, which is what inspired the YouTube video.  He said that just the opportunity to present his engine to current students at his alma mater was rewarding.

“I am a retired dental hygienist. To be invited to address engineering students was kind of an honor for me,” Chovanak said.

Chovanak’s video can be found at under the user name “Batgoldfly.”

To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.