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OSU aerospace students repeat as international champs

Monday, May 16, 2005

OklahomaState University again ruled the skies in the nation’s largest aerospace engineering student contest. Independent teams representing OSU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering captured first and second places in the AIAA Student Design/Build/Fly Competition for the second consecutive year. Sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Cessna and the Office of Naval Research, the contest at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., featured 44 university teams from the United States, Canada, Italy, Israel and Turkey.  OSU teams have participated in the competition for eight of its nine years, placing first and third in 2001 and first and second in 2004. Simultaneously taking first and second in this contest is an accomplishment no other university can claim, and OSU has now done it two years in a row,” said Dr. Andy Arena, Maciula Professor of engineering at OSU and the teams’ faculty adviser. “Our students’ performance is all the more impressive considering the level of competition and the fact there are 66 accredited aerospace engineering programs in the United States.” 


The contest requires students to design and fabricate an unmanned, electric-powered, radio-controlled aircraft to accomplish specified flight mission objectives and then demonstrate its capabilities. The missions are updated each year, but the goal remains a design that balances quality handling with high performance and may be manufactured practically and affordably. This year you could choose from three separate missions, but your plane had to perform two of them,” said mechanical and aerospace engineering senior Nick Wilson, chief engineer for the first-place team, OSU Black. “Both of our teams decided to focus on the categories that offered the most potential points, the internal and external payload missions.” The payload was two lengths of plastic pipe, each weighted to three pounds and carried within the plane’s fuselage or on its wingtips. The timed, internal mission was divided into four flight segments. Between each loaded and unloaded sortie, a flight crew scrambled out onto the tarmac and removed or restored the cargo with the aircraft remaining grounded until they all returned to a designated area. The clock ultimately stopped following the final, unloaded sortie when the flight crew ran onto the runway, disassembled the aircraft and stowed it in a case. Payloads were carried on the plane’s wingtips during the external mission. As the aircraft taxied on the runway between a loaded and unloaded sortie, the pipes had to be released by remote and dropped in respective, designated zones. The mission was also timed and concluded when a flight crew disassembled its plane.  “The technical difficulty is significant because the payload almost weighs as much as your aircraft,” Wilson said. “Especially challenging this year was carrying the payload on the wingtips because that introduced flight handling problems and made it really hard to taxi after you released one of the pipes.”Final scores were determined with a formula that combined flight mission scores; a rated aircraft cost assessment based on plane size and design and construction man-hours; and a technical report score. OSU Black took first with 301 points, and OSU Orange scored 298. Third-place Washington State University scored 253 points.While differing in shape, propulsion specifications, undercarriage design and payload carrying, handling and release capability, OSU’s entries were both fiber composite, conventional body planes weighing approximately 7.5 pounds. Both teams used the OSU College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology’s Design and Manufacturing Laboratory and wind tunnel and the Perry airfield of The Charles Machine Works Inc. “Even though he lives in Guthrie, our pilot Dan Bierly comes up and flies our planes for us at Ditch Witch’s runway, and all the extra practice probably gives us a big advantage over a lot of teams,” said Wilson, who has accepted a job with Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth. “Much of our success can also be attributed to the work Professor Arena’s done to make sure we have top-notch facilities here.” “The DML is our biggest resource in terms of what we can produce. It’s where we do all of our fabrication, construction and assembly, and both teams have separate design rooms where we do the majority of our work,” he said. The students complete their entries as semester-long projects in the aerospace engineering senior design course. Headed by a chief engineer and divided among aerodynamics, structures and propulsion groups, the teams act as small companies.“Few of us have experienced anything that will prepare us for professional employment like this class and competition,” said mechanical and aerospace engineering senior and OSU Orange chief engineer Ronya Rolen. “We’ve had to go back and reference everything we’ve learned and put it to work on one major project.”“We designed a plane for a competition, built it and placed second. You really can’t get better preparation to go out into industry than that,” said Rolen, who will work in Tulsa for American Airlines. OSU’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed by the aerospace industry. North Texas-based L-3 hired five students from OSU’s 2004 first- and second-place teams, including both chief engineers. Several firms have become team sponsors, and recruiters for others spend evenings with students at the DML, sharing pizza and their company pitches. By February or March most students are weighing a number of employment offers from the competitive companies, while others are waiting at the contest, according to Arena. “They weren’t sponsors, but people from NAVAIR were at the competition watching, and when it was over, they came up and asked our students if any of them wanted to interview for jobs,” Arena said.


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