A month before spring breakers flock to Florida beaches, a team of senior engineering students will travel there to do more than tan — they’ll compete in an international competition flying a remote-controlled airplane they made themselves.
The SAE Aero Design Series East will be held on March 13-15 in Lakeland, Florida. It’s a competition for undergraduate and graduate students intended to provide engineering students with a real-life engineering challenge.
“The competition is a student-based competition where we design, build, test — from the ground up — an RC [remote-controlled] aircraft,” team leader Blaine Leger said.
Three classes make up the competition: Regular Class, Micro Class and Advanced Class. Regular Class and Micro Class teams try to carry the most weight, while the Advanced Class team’s aircraft must drop a weight into a target.
Leger said the University has sent a Micro team every year, but this year, it is sending a Regular Class team, too.
“Every year, they’ve had a micro team,” Leger said. “They don’t have a Regular Class team every year, but we had enough interest this year and design for two teams.”
Leger is part of the Regular Class team, along with Robert Larsen, Camille Lamond, Ryan Denoux, Cameron Price, Katelin Moran and Thomas Michell.
In addition to their presence on the Regular Class team, each of these students has something else in common — prior to this project, none of them had experience in aviation projects.
“It’s hard,” Leger said. “We were completely lost about six months ago.”
The team has a better understanding of what goes into aviation projects now, he said.
“It’s kind of cool because we’re building this thing and laying it out, and it has this huge eight-foot wingspan,” Leger said. “And when we finally brought it out and did a test flight, it kind of proved all the math and stuff worked.”
With a month left until the competition, Leger’s team plans to build and test two more aircraft.
The first aircraft is in pieces now, and out of it, the team will build a second iteration and eventually a third, making models to carry more weight than each of the previous models.
“The first one was to see if everything worked,” Leger said. “Now we’re making a second one, and we’re gonna wind up making a third one. And we have about a month left, so it’s going to be tight.”
The team can score points based how much weight their craft can carry, their technical presentation and a report they have already turned in.
A high percentage of the team’s score is devoted to the group’s design report and oral presentation. The competition focuses on the interpersonal communication of teams, a quality of the engineering workplace that is often overlooked, according to the SAE Aero Design Series website.
The University’s 2009 Regular Class team won “Most Interesting Flight Path Award” and placed 12th overall — the highest any Regular Class team has placed since then. Leger said the team’s advisers said the 2015 team is already off to a better start.
“Both us and the other team — the Micro team — have flying prototypes before the day before the competition,” Leger said. “We’ve gotten a plane in the air already and flown it., so I think we have a pretty good chance of success this year.”