Team leader Dale Friesen, far left, and members of the AERO-SAE Heavy Lift Group are competing against other university teams from around the world.
Edmonton—A team of U of A engineering students is taking to the skies to compete at an international aircraft design competition.
Ten students with the Faculty of Engineering’s AERO-SAE Heavy Lift Group will compete at an annual competition in Marietta, Georgia. The group faces the challenge of getting its remote-controlled aircraft airborne with a heavy payload, within tight, predictable parameters.
Regulations limit the takeoff approach to just 200 feet, and the team estimates its airplane will be airborne with a 17-lbs. payload in 185 feet.
“Our plane is designed to lift the maximum weight, 17 lbs., in 185 feet,” said team leader Dale Friesen, a fifth-year mechanical engineering student in the faculty’s co-op program. “We did some calculations and it’s all tuned in for that distance.”
In fact, teams earn points based on how close their aircraft performs compared to the team’s own predictions.
“If we hit that goal we’ll score more points than if our plane lifts 25 lbs.,” said team member Scott McKinney, a mechanical engineering graduate student working as design leader for the group. “Meeting your predicted performance shows good engineering.”
The students designed and built the airplane, which is made from balsa and birch wood and covered with a mylar skin and has a wingspan of 3.2 meters.
Getting involved in a student design group like this one means sacrificing any free time they might have, but the rewards—learning new engineering principles and skills—are worth it, says Friesen.
“From a purely selfish point of view, it’s something that I talked about a lot when I was doing job interviews this year and employers seemed to like it,” he said.
“It gives you a lot of good design experience and experience in practical manufacturing. I’m the project manager and those skills are valuable in certain jobs too.”
For first-year engineering student Huxley Bentz, joining the team brings him closer to his career goals.
“The reason I’m studying engineering is so I can get a job in the aerospace industry and work on rockets with SpaceX or the Canadian space program,” he said. “That’s my goal.”
In the workshop, junior students gain from working with senior members of the team. For example, students like McKinney, who has helped design and build four airplanes with the group over the years, pass their knowledge and experience along to new team members like Bentz.
“These guys say I’ll be way ahead on my second-year design courses because of all the stuff I’ve learned,” said Bentz. “It’s a really good learning experience.”
The competition runs April 27 – 29.