This past weekend, I was able to see the culmination of two semesters’ worth of work put into an aircraft design for the AIAA Design/Build/Fly (DBF) competition.
Every year, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) holds a competition where university teams from around the country and the world get the opportunity to design an RC airplane that can meet three specific mission requirements that are set by the competition planning members. This year’s three mission requirements included:
- Mission 1: Fly 1,000 foot lap rotations and determine how many can be flown within 4 minutes.
- Mission 2: Take a 3.75 pound payload of aluminum bars and successfully fly three lap rotations within 4 minutes.
- Mission 3: Design a mechanism to release 2 liters of water after the plane successfully reaches 100 meters.
I took DBF to fulfill my senior design requirements, but also because I had garnered an interest in it after my two friends (now roommates) had talked about their experiences with the team last year. I had been looking for an opportunity to get experience with going through the entire design cycle of an aircraft, and DBF was exactly that.
The competition this year was held out in Wichita, KS, from April 13th to April 15th, so last Thursday 26 members of the DBF team took a nice 12-hour drive all the way out there. The competition is co-sponsored by Cessna and Raytheon (Cessna’s HQ is in Wichita, and Raytheon’s is in Tuscon, AZ) and the competition location rotates in between the two.
Even though the forecast called for thunderstorms all three days of the competition, the first day turned out to be absolutely beautiful. It was partly cloudy, low winds, and a really comfortable temperature out at the Cessna airfield, where the competition was held. It was also pretty cool, because the airfield is located next to McConnell Air Force Base, home to one of the country’s largest refueling fleets of KC-135s. So all throughout the day, the tankers were doing practice landing runs, and this became a pretty regular site:
Wichita also houses a former Boeing facility, and we got to see a Boeing Dreamlifter (one of 4 planes that was constructed to transport parts for the Boeing 787) make a landing at McConnell as well.
As interesting as seeing the planes land over at the AFB was, the opportunity to see all of these other teams from other engineering schools and their airplane designs was also really neat as well. There were 69 teams in total that entered the competition, but about 60 that actually showed up on-site for flights. Here is a picture of us with our plane:
There’s me on the left, with Lee, the pilot, in the middle, and Jason, the team leader, on the right. The plane itself was constructed using balsa wood and some carbon fiber elements as well. Our plane successfully completed Mission 1 and 2 on the first and second day of the competition. However, on the night of the second day (April 14th) an intense storm system brought a number of tornadoes to the region, including an F4 tornado that struck about 8 miles away from our hotel. The aftermath of the weather left multiple downed power lines that blocked off access to the Cessna airfield, and the DBF competition officials had to cancel the rest of the competition.
We drove back home all day yesterday, and although it wasn’t the best of endings to the competition, it was still a really great experience to go out there, see how our design compared with everyone else’s, and appreciate the engineering talents that all of the schools brought out to the competition.