Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
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AEM spotlight:

AEM team takes first at international build competition

James Flaten

Pictured are the two awards won by AEM seniors at the Design West competition - first place overall (micro class) and second place for best design report (micro class)

After a seventeen-hour ride to Fort Worth, Texas, Seniors from the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics at the University of Minnesota began final preparations for the Aero Design West, a contest in which dozens of teams from the United States, as well as several from Poland, Mexico and Venezuela, designed and fabricated planes with the aim to carry as large a mass as possible. One AEM student team took first place overall in the “micro class” – their 17 ounce plane carried approximately twice its weight. The “regular class” team took 11th place overall.

The Design West competition serves as a contest in which students may synthesize the whole of their aerospace engineering and mechanics education to produce an aircraft that meets design goals and specifications, namely to carry a payload substantial when compared to aircraft weight.  Fifty-four teams registered for the competition and approximately 35 showed up, including international teams.

Micro class team member Jordan Stewart stated the successful plane design came through many compromises.

“Our goal of the micro class was to successfully carry a maximum payload while designing our aircraft to be as small and light as possible,” he said. “To effectively do this we needed to make careful compromises between eliminating as much weight from our design while maintaining structural strength.”

The final aircraft was just over 30 inches tip to tail, with a wingspan of 43 inches. It stood about 12 inches from the top of the fuselage to the ground and weighed in at just over a pound.

Robert Sechler, Educational Relations Manager for SAE International, commended the micro class team for their “outstanding performance.”

“Several quality schools and teams competed, and to take first place is a testament to Minnesota’s skill, ingenuity and teamwork - congratulations to the Micro Gophers.”

The competition served as a culmination of AEM’s Senior Design class series, in which students choose from a number of projects in the fall semester of their senior year, often designing an aircraft or fulfilling design objectives related to flight, like autonomous refueling, under guidance from industry mentors. Students with interest and the right projects can continue to AEM’s Senior Design build class, where they further refine design and follow through with construction based on that design. Some projects, like the SAE Heavy Lift project, may end up in competitions.

Industrial Professor Jeff Hammer noted that the micro class team optimized plane design for stability and for the rubric, which helped the team win by a large margin. In addition to being proud of his students, Hammer said, he was impressed with their design, preparation and the respective aircrafts’ performances. The micro class team also took second place for their written and oral report on the aircraft.

In a competition well-known for spectacular crashes, both planes from the University held up and returned safely. AEM students haven’t always fared so well – pieces of crashed Heavy Lift aircraft from the past are displayed for a bit more than nostalgia’s sake for students in AEM’s shop. 

Both UMN SAE Heavy Lift teams were excellent representatives of the Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics, said Department Head Gary Balas. He noted the micro class team’s experience and members’ past interest in remote-control planes, including student Brian Nackerud, who has worked with Professor Balas for the past two years as a remote-control pilot and has designed several planes for our indoor flying research. Professor Balas also commended Professor Hammer’s leadership of the design class and as faculty advisor.

“Our success at the SAE Heavy Lift competition is another indicator of the quality of our undergraduate education in aerospace engineering and students," Balas said.

Brian Nackerud, who served on the micro class team, echoed Balas.

“My position as a research assistant for Dr. Balas was critical in understanding how to go about the duties in the project,” he said. “We had an awesome team and everyone did something that was needed to win the competition – our teachers must have taught us well.”

In addition to participating in the competition, students had the opportunity to tour the area, including a Lockheed Martin facility where the observed the F-35 joint strike fighter production line.

Scott Wigen, regular class team lead, described the competition as an overall beneficial experience. The team may have over-designed the plane, he said, in order to ensure stability. The trade-off was less capacity for cargo.

“My entire team worked really well together and each person brought something positive to the airplane,” he said. “This was an extremely challenging project to design and build but seeing the airplane perform so well was very gratifying and was the real culmination of our aerospace education.”

Scenes from the build process and event


Last Modified: Wednesday, 22-Aug-2012 13:41:34 CDT -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation