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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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First competition for AIAA student chapter: Team designs, builds and flies a remote controlled unmanned plane

Their plane may have crashed on the competition runway but the members of NMSU's AIAA student club are unanimous in proclaiming their project a success. Oscar Torres spoke the team sentiment when he stated, "Success was getting a plane designed and built in a short time?and it flew on its test flight here." Fellow team member Alaa Husini added, "It worked! We did it! The plane reached about a 100 feet during its flight out at Mesa Grande. And made it there (Wichita, Kansas), passed pre-flight inspection and even received compliments." High winds during the competition proved insurmountable. Next time, the team will be sure to test in windy as well as calm conditions.



The AIAA team stands behind their Crimson Jett on the field in Wichita, Kan. - site of the annual Design/Build/Fly competition held April 16-18, 2010. Team members (from left): Brendan Gardner, Cory Medina, Juan Carlos Gomez, Marco Inzunza, Alaa Husini, Weston Marlow, Rene Carrillo and Oscar Torres. (Photo courtesy NMSU AIAA team)

The 'Crimson Jett' (Jett is not a misspelling but an adaptation from Jett Hall, the campus building that lodges the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department) was a first entry for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics student chapter in the annual Design/Build/Fly competition sponsored by Cessna Aircraft Company and Raytheon Missile Systems.

Plenty of AIAA members expressed willingness to participate in the project, but the numbers reduced to eight before the competition. AIAA membership is not limited to aerospace engineering students, which is reflected in the team composition with more mechanical than aerospace engineering majors. Bryndan Gardner, Cory Medina and Weston Marlow are AE majors; Marco Inzunza, Alaa Husini, Rene Carillos, Juan Carlos Gomez and Oscar Torres are working on ME degrees.

First came a design in accordance with competition rules: remote controlled, propeller driven, maximum power of 40 amp current; the plane, with full payload, must weigh less than 55 pounds. A report presenting the design and production plan must be submitted and pass standards before a team is fully accepted for participation. The team divided itself according to project needs (design, fabrication, electrical system) and all contributed to the report, which was one of the 68 approved out of the 79 submitted to AIAA.

Initially somewhat daunted, Husini recognized, "We can do this. We learned techniques and tools for design in ME 159 (Graphical Communication & Design) and ME 222 (Intro to Product Development). We applied what we had learned in many other engineering courses, too."

In addition to the basic aircraft structure, the team also had to treat their design as a "Baseball Team Plane," which would carry payloads of "balls" and "bats." The balls had to be carried within; the bats attached to the outside of the aircraft. The aircraft itself had to be broken down into components and fit into a case 2 feet by 2 feet by 4 feet?another design requirement. The UAVs were to fly three missions during the event: ferry flight without payload; payload with 6-10 softballs; payload with a random number of bats. The design constraint for the balls, Husini explained, was to retain balance whether carrying six, seven, eight, nine or 10 balls. "I was so excited when the design idea emerged: a compartment with five rows of three spaces."

Department head Tom Burton and instructor Jon Davis gave advice and support as the project progressed.

Husini said Davis' help was essential. He arranged use of a workshop room at NMSU's workforce center to better accommodate the fabrication and assembly stages. Jesse McAvoy, a Ph.D. student who has extensive experience with remote-controlled air vehicles, also lent assistance.

Like all projects, the Crimson Jett ran into problems. The laser cutter at NMSU could not cut through the thickness of the wood used for the structure. A solution came through a BSME graduate, Ken Ruble, who enlisted a friend from Chaparral with the needed equipment to cut the ribs.

Spring-loaded electrical connecting rods for the detachable wings were fabricated in Ciudad Juarez. Also, the plane experienced some damage in an incident after the test flight and had to be quickly repaired before the team headed out for Wichita.

The team's determination kept them on an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule during the semester break, followed by many evening and weekend sessions to meet deadline. The reward: seeing their plane reach the skies in the test flight a week before the event.

The beautiful wood shop at DACC was used to cut the panels that made up the competition box.

"Finally?it looked great! It worked! We did it!"

A 14-hour road trip to get there and then an almost sleepless weekend were balanced by the excitement of seeing and meeting the other teams and their planes, some from as far as Turkey and Russia. The atmosphere, rather than competitive among participants, was one of mutual challenge and engagement. One group, Husini reported, "heard it was our first time, looked our plane over and gave us some good advice. We learned, too, that the box didn't really have to transport the plane, only store it."

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department head, Tom Burton, who accompanied the team to Wichita, stated, "This is one of the best student competition design teams I have seen. These eight students were competent and dedicated, and they did an excellent job of airplane design and fabrication. I think they will do even better next year."

The AIAA student chapter plans to join the competition again in 2011 with a foundation from this year's experience.