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Engineers compete nationally

Tori Roeck | Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fifteen aerospace engineering students traveled to Wichita, Kan., this weekend to test a remote-controlled model airplane they designed in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Design/Build/Fly Competition.

Junior Greg Obee said each team in the competition submitted a report outlining the design of its plane, and then tested the plane opposite other teams’ aircraft in three “missions.”

“This year, the three missions were a speed-based mission to complete as many laps of a course as possible in a set timeframe,” Obee said. “Mission Two was to carry eight simulated passengers in the aircraft … Then Mission Three was to carry two liters of water up to an altitude of 100 meters, and then drop it at 100 meters automatically.”

Junior Matthew Kudija said the competition was cut short due to dangerous weather before the Notre Dame team could complete all three missions.

“There was a tornado Saturday night that caused the competition to be cancelled [Sunday], a day early,” Kudija said. “We flew Mission One and successfully completed it. We flew Mission Two, and due to a power failure, landed off the runway and therefore did not receive a score for it. Then we were unable to reattempt Mission Two and to attempt Mission Three, because it was cancelled on Sunday.”

Despite not finishing the competition, Kudija said the Notre Dame team, comprised of aerospace engineering majors ranging from freshmen to seniors, fared well in the standings.

Out of 68 reports describing how the planes were designed, the Notre Dame team’s report tied for third place. He said its airplane was ranked 20th in mission performance when the competition was halted.

“Our plane was definitely more stable and one of the best flying planes there,” he said.

Obee said the team faced stiff competition, because the event involved international teams from Turkey, Israel and Italy, as well as teams from other American universities. Most of the other teams designed and built their planes in conjunction with classes, while Notre Dame’s team did so as an extracurricular activity.

“A lot of the teams we competed against are school-sanctioned groups,” Obee said. “They’re competing for class, they’re competing for a grade. They have a lot of faculty help … whereas we are completely doing it voluntarily.”

Even without the incentive of grades, Kudija said the team began preparing for the competition when the rules were released in August.

“Most of the fall semester was spent designing the aircraft and building the prototype that we finished by Christmas break,” he said. “Then during the spring semester, we spent a lot of time testing that prototype, making design changes and building our final aircraft.”

Kudija said the team took some risks on its aircraft that paid off in the competition.

“We decided as a team to take two pretty significant risks this year to challenge ourselves,” he said. “The first was that we went with a flying-wing design, which is not your conventional design and had some additional challenges especially with stability. Secondly, we went with a foam and fiberglass composite construction, instead of using the more traditional balsa wood.”

Kudija said the competition is a good way for aerospace engineering majors to put their skills into practice.

“This is a project that gives aerospace students an opportunity to get involved and really get some hands-on experience applying the things we learn into the classroom to an actual design problem,” he said.  

Even though this is only the second year Notre Dame fielded a team for the competition, Obee said he wants students to continue to participate for years to come.

“We’re really trying to keep the freshman and sophomore classes involved so that as Matt and I graduate, we will be able to keep this team going from year to year,” he said. “We started it together last year … but it’s definitely something we want to see continue from year to year from now on.”