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Engineering students win second place at international aircraft design, flying competition

Engineering students win second place at international aircraft design, flying competition

July 27, 2021 at 12:45pm

Team FIU reached the height of success, winning second place in mission performance and second overall at the international SAE Aero Design Competition in June.

Nineteen teams from across the United States, including Puerto Rico, and from countries like Egypt, India and Poland competed in Lakeland, Florida. The FIU team was comprised of mechanical engineering undergraduate students – Clara Bahoya, Walid Esiely, Ruben Fernandez, Hernando Lugo, Andres Salgado, William San Pedro and Geisy Valdes – from FIU’s American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Student Chapter.

Throughout the last year, the students from the College of Engineering & Computing’s Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering researched, designed, optimized and built their aircraft. They kept in mind limitations imposed by the competition, such as electric motor power consumption, maximum runway length and wingspan and minimum allowable weight of the cargo.

The students began working on the design in August 2020 and met virtually every week with their faculty advisor. Their team structure consisted of three sub-teams: aerodynamics, structure and propulsion.

They used advanced commercial computer programs such as SolidWorks to design the aircraft; Ansys Static Structural to calculate stresses and deformations of the airplane’s structure; Ansys-Fluent to calculate aerodynamic pressure distribution on the surface of the entire aircraft; and modeFrontier to optimize the shape of the wing, winglets and tail for maximum lift. This would ensure the structural integrity and performance of the aircraft.

A unique component of their design was incorporating winglets, which attach to the wingtips, reducing aerodynamic drag while increasing the lift force.

The result of all their hard work? A 71-inch wingspan aircraft that can carry one soccer ball and 20 pounds of steel. The team was ready for competition day. However, right before the competition, an accident occurred.

“We were doing a final test flight and crashed the aircraft by accident,” says Fernandez, a senior mechanical engineering student and project’s chief engineer. “We stayed up all night to build the wing and nose cap of a second aircraft we already had built.”

Lugo, the structural design team leader, adds: “Receiving second place in this competition was a great feeling, especially after all the work the team put in not just the night before, but from the very beginning of this project.”

The SAE Aero Design Competition was a three-day event. On the first day of the competition, the team’s aircraft underwent a technical inspection. On the second day, the team was able to fly their aircraft with the help of their pilot, Kishan Kalpoe. They had a total of seven flights in a one-hour and a half period.

On the third and final day, the test flights continued, and the official awards ceremony kicked off in the afternoon. Participants were scored on their written and oral presentation, results, flight mission performance and overall score.

“FIU has outstandingly talented students, and this proves it,” says George S. Dulikravich, professor of mechanical engineering and fellow of AIAA who served as the faculty advisor for the FIU AIAA student team. “The students used the latest software for their design and simulations. They wrote and presented an entire report graded by aerospace industry professionals.”

Dulikravich says that although FIU does not offer an aerospace engineering major, joining a club like AIAA provides engineering students with many benefits. “They learn new skills as members of a design team, work on publications, attend network events and are securing internship opportunities.”

Lugo can testify to this. “Companies care about experience. And through AIAA, I got the experience,” says Lugo, who has accepted a design engineering internship position at Cummins Engines. “I am glad I got this experience and get to work with such a great team.”

The FIU team received a $750 prize, which will go toward the AIAA Student Chapter. The students look forward to participating in next year’s competition and have already begun designing a new aircraft.