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Engineering students take flight

Kristen Durbin | Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A team of Notre Dame engineering students put months of hard work into flight this weekend when they brought their remote-controlled airplane to the 2011 Design/Build/Fly competition in Tucson, Ariz and finished in 28th place.

Sophomore Matt Kudija was among six undergraduate members of the 20-person design team that traveled to Tucson Thursday. The 15th annual competition sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Foundation included 96 teams from universities around the country.

Kudija said the team’s placement reflected the fact that it was composed primarily of sophomore engineering students.

“A lot of the teams we competed against are in senior design classes at their schools, so we were a little outmatched on the design and detail analysis aspects of the competition,” he said. “Our goal was to create a plane that would successfully complete all three missions.”

Kudija said each plane flown in the competition had to meet a specific set of requirements and successfully complete three missions. The missions tested the plane for speed and the ability to carry a payload of steel or golf balls.

The balsa and plywood plane also had to fit inside a suitcase when broken down into its components and be reassembled in five minutes or less during the competition, Kudja said. The team used computer-aided design (CAD) software to design the plane.

“We were given four attempts to complete the three missions, but on the first attempt, our suitcase dimensions were too big,” Kudija said. “But I was really proud because the team was able to come together at the last minute to overcome that obstacle and make the remaining three attempts successful.”

Kudija said the team faced a serious obstacle when their original prototype plane was severely damaged in a test crash just a week and a half prior to the competition.

“We had been working on designing the plane since before Christmas, and we started building it after winter break,” Kudija said. “Then we had to rebuild the plane and make design changes to it after the crash, but we had serious concerns about the original prototype being able to be built in time anyway.”

Sophomore Greg Obee felt the team’s work under pressure provided him with a unique learning opportunity.

“It was definitely a big learning experience, especially because it’s our first year, most of us are sophomores and we didn’t have a lot of experience,” he said. “We were very happy to finish 28th, and we learned a lot that we can take to the competition next year.”

The group received funds to participate in the competition from the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. Professor Robert Nelson served as the project advisor along with two graduate students, Kudija said.