Aerospace & Mechanical
Engineering

Design-Build-Fly Competition Team

Undergraduate Aero-Design Team wins 4th Place in International Competition

A team of USC undergraduate engineering students won fourth place at the 2003 Design/Build/Fly Competition sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. One of the most unique features of the competition was that all of the planes had to be powered by electric motors and batteries. The radio controlled planes had to be designed and built for to fit in a small packing crate, develop a high flight speed and deploy a simulated communications payload. A total of 43 teams entered the competition that was held in Maryland on April 26 & 27, 2003. Due to the rigors of the construction and competition, only 33 planes participated in the flying part of the competition; 27 from the United States and six from Italy, Turkey and Canada. This annual competition is supported by Cessna and the Office of Naval Research to promote aerospace engineering and aircraft development in undergraduate educational programs. USC has entered this competition each year during the last six years and has placed first (1998), second (2002) and third (1999) in addition to placing fourth this year.

The design objective for this year's competition was to create an airplane that could be stored in a 2 x 4 x 1 foot box. The team had to rapidly assemble the plane in a timed event. After passing a rigorous safety inspection, the plane had to complete two of three specified flying missions: Communications Repeater, Sensor Deployment, or Missile Radome Decoy. Each mission required the plane to take off with a 5 pound sensor payload. The planes had to take off within 120 feet and fly around a 1000 foot pylon course with additional turns to demonstrate maneuverability. The Communications Repeater mission required four total laps with additional turns and had a difficulty factor of one. The Sensor Deployment mission necessitated the plane to land after two laps, remotely drop its payload on the runway and fly an additional two laps. It had a difficulty factor of 1.5. The Missile Radome Decoy mission required the plane to have simulated radome attached to the aircraft which greatly increased its drag. This mission required four continuous laps and had a difficulty factor of two. Since the planes were all limited to less than five pounds of batteries, energy management was an extremely important part of the design and flying. An added degree of difficulty was introduced into the competition by the weather; wind gusts and rain limited the flying on Saturday, but Sunday's weather was excellent.

The total score for each team was comprised of their flight performance on their best two flights, their score on a written report documenting their aircraft design and selection, and a "Rated Aircraft Cost" representing the complexity and manufacturing costs of their design. USC's plane, named "SCyRaider," had the fourth best flying score and the team had the second best written report at the competition.

USC's participation in this project is an outgrowth of an effort by the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering to provide a design experience to interested students that will continue over the entire four years of their education. USC’s effort in this competition began early in the fall semester. The early part of the semester included lectures for the freshman and sophomores on the team to familiarize them with basic aerodynamics. During this time, the juniors and seniors were busy with the conceptual and preliminary design of the plane. In addition, smaller teams tested sub-components for the plane, such as the deployment system. This culminated in a Preliminary Design Review during which the team presented their ideas to a panel of aeronautical engineers from industry. Towards the end of the semester, everyone participated in the final design of the plane. Construction of the aircraft began in the early part of the spring semester. Groups of two to four students were formed to work on separate components of the plane such as the wing, control surfaces, deployment system, power plant, etc. The plane was finished by the end of February and test flying began. A systematic set of flights were conducted on the weekends to insure that the plane was air worthy, had sufficient power available, could deploy the sensor payload, etc. Finally flights simulating the competition were conducted.

The Aero-Design Team at USC is open to all students who have an interest in airplanes and design. The team usually consists of 30-40 students and includes freshmen through seniors from many different disciplines of engineering. This years team had 23 AE students, 13 ME students, and 8 others from different departments. The 2002-2003 team leader was George Sechrist, an ISE major. The faculty advisor is Ron Blackwelder, Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering and the team has two industry advisors, Mark Page from Swift Engineering, Inc and Wyatt Sadler from Aerovironment Inc.

The team’s organizational structure is modeled after industry and is split into five to seven discipline groups for aerodynamics, stability and control, propulsion, etc. Freshmen and sophomores are usually teamed up with upperclassmen in a group. The juniors and seniors are the group leaders and one of the seniors is the team leader. In addition to the lectures, the underclassmen learn from their peers within the team. This provides all the students experience working on teams and gives experience in leadership to the older members of the team. Each group is responsible for designing their component of the aircraft and insuring it mates with the other components in the plane. During the spring semester, the same group continues by constructing the component during the building phase. Each groups must also provide a written description of their effort for the team’s written report. In addition, the team usually visits local industry every year and presents their project to industrial engineers thus providing experience in written and oral communication.

The second semester begins with the construction phase. The team has developed considerable expertise in using modern light weight materials. Carbon composites were used exclusively to reduce the weight of the airframe. To reduce the weight of the aircraft this year, the design was simplified to include two primary load bearing structures; namely the wing spar and a backbone perpendicular to the spar. The fuselage was thus primarily an aerodynamic fairing surrounding the propulsion system and the sensor payload.

SCyRaider and many of the team members are shown on the accompanying photo taken in Maryland at the competition site.

The members in the back row from left to right are Stephane deMartimprey, Nathan Palmer (hidden), Stephane Gallet, Tim Scheon, Jason Randy, Tyler Golightly, Mike Mace, Jennifer Tsakoumakis, Jake Evert, Lester Kang, and Tai Merzel. Directly behind the plane are Tasha Drew, Stephanie Hunt, Shannon Moriarty, Jeremy Milne and Andres Figueroa. In front of the plane are Jerry Chen, Billy Kaplan, Cristina Nichitean (2004 team leader), George Sechrist (2003 team leader), Wyatt Sadler (pilot), and Mark Page (industrial advisor). Several other students participated in the project but were not able to make the trip to Maryland including Tim Bentley, Jonathan Hartley, Amanda Lim, Heidi Faqua, Doris Pease and others.

Other photos taken at the competition:

Photo of the plane after it was assembled. The plane is setting on the 2 x 4 x 1 foot box that contained it prior to assembly. The assembly time was 23 seconds and the assembly crew were Jason Randy (pointing at the plane), Stephane deMartimprey (above the tail) and Stephane Gallet (with his back to the camera.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

USC's plane, SCyRaider, on the flight line at the competition. Several planes had V-tails because they were easier to package into the 2 x 4 x 1 foot box. Behind the plane from left to right are Shannon Moriarty, Lester Kang, Tai Merzel, Mark Page and Tim Scheon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A view of the flight line at the competition. Typically five to twelve planes would be in the line waiting for their turn to fly. While in the flight line, no work could be done on the planes as they had to be ready to fly. Note the circular white simulated radome mounted above the wing. The white tent in the back ground provided shelter from the rain and a place to work on the planes.