MORGANTOWN--Engineering students from West Virginia University's Design/Build/Fly team faced fierce competition, including a tornado, to earn ninth place during an international radio-controlled competition sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
The team competes annually in the contest, which provides a real-world aircraft design experience for students by giving them the opportunity to validate their analytic studies. This year, the competition was held in Wichita, Kansas.
Student teams design, fabricate and demonstrate the flight capabilities of an unmanned, electric powered, radio-controlled aircraft, which can best meet the specified mission profile provided in the contest rules. The goal is to achieve a balanced design that complies with the criteria of the competition while being practical and affordable to manufacture and leads to an airplane that can fly safely and win.
What should have been a three-day competition was cut in half as a storm cell moved across the Midwest. After a successful day one, completing six laps in the allotted four minutes, the team had high hopes for the second and third round.
"On Saturday morning, with winds steady at 15 to 20 miles per hour, the team took to the air again with a payload of eight aluminum passengers," explained Thomas Gray, teaching assistant for the course at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. "Other aircraft struggled with the high winds, barely moving over wind speed on the upwind leg of the course. When 'Hammerhead' took to the skies, it turned heads as it powered through the adverse conditions, completing the three lap flight in three and a half minutes."
Hammerhead, WVU's aircraft, never received the opportunity to impress onlookers during the third segment of the competition.
"The competition staff halted flights to ensure everyone would safely exit the facilities and be able to return to their hotels before the storm," said Gray.
With only two teams successfully completing the third climb to altitude mission before the end of flights on Saturday, the judges decided to dismiss the third round.
WVU placed in the top 10 out of 57 teams, exceeding the team's expectations.
"The team's hard work, ingenuity and ambition to succeed, as well as the resources that our mechanical and aerospace engineering department invested in the project, paid off in the end," said Jacky Prucz, chair of the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. "The team's success will serve as an uplifting example to our next generation of DBF teams and will play a strong role in advancing the international reputation and recognition of our aerospace engineering program."