Aero Design Team Surprises competitors with radical design
Saturday, May 15th, 2010
For the second year in a row, Lawrence Tech finished in the top 10 in the SAE Aero Design East Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, placing well ahead of notable schools such as Iowa State, Kansas State, University of Virginia, and the U.S. Military Academy, as well as international teams from Brazil, Poland, India, Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Canada.
It was an impressive finish for a team that unveiled a radical design and sustained a major crash during the competition held April 30 to May 2.
Team Captain Mike Martinico, Chris Campbell, Danielle Kozak, Steve Musselman, Stephanie Shevenock, and Dan Weitzmann spent 12 months designing and building an aircraft that would represent Lawrence Tech. The SAE Aero Design competition challenges engineering students from around the world to design, build, test, and fly a radio controlled heavy-lift cargo airplane.
Given a set of constraints, the goal is to airlift the most weight possible. Some of the constraints this year included a maximum linear dimension (length plus width plus height) of 200 inches, an unmodified OS 0.61 FX engine, and a cargo bay area of at least 5 inches by 5 inches by 10 inches. Planes had to take off within 200 feet and land within 400 feet.
The Lawrence Tech plane is a full fuselage design with a T-tail. The wing uses a Selig 1223 airfoil with a 128-inch span and a slight taper to reduce drag.
Due to poor weather in April, the team managed only one test flight, and wind gusts and control issues caused a frightening crash. Hasty repairs were made and control surfaces were adjusted, but there was no time for another test flight.
When the Lawrence Tech competitors arrived in Texas and saw planes from around the world, it was clear that they had the longest wingspan (big advantage), but with a sacrifice of one of the shortest fuselages (possible disadvantage). Some judges had doubts that such a radical design would fly at all.
The team’s oral presentation went very well, placing fifth out of 44 teams.
Unfortunately wind gusts on Friday prevented one last test flight before the competition flights began Saturday. The first two Lawrence Tech flights were successful with no payload and then a little less than 10 pounds. On the third try, the plane flew successfully with 19.5 pounds, despite a scary dive midway through the flight. As the wind gusts increased and the air density become unfavorable, the team stopped flying for the day to await the final flights on Sunday morning.
The team decided to go all out on Sunday and load the plane to its maximum design limit – nearly 30 pounds. The plane launched into the air in well less than the maximum 200 feet but it could not gain altitude above nine feet. The pilot slowly brought the plane down in a grassy field. The propeller caught on the ground and the plane tumbled. The wing cracked in half, but the rest of the plane was intact.
Hurried scrambling had the plane repaired within an hour for the final flight. Backing off to 23.5 lbs, the plane flew successfully with an ugly “bandage” covering the wing. The team finished in ninth place, despite some deductions for the last minute design changes.
An admirable finish, and very rewarding considering the radical design. The team lifted the most gross weight of any team, 44 pounds, although payload is all that is counted. The 15-pound plane was heavier than most planes but that necessary design tradeoff helped it survive two crashes.
– Andrew Gerhart