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Aerospace engineering students earn acclaim in international design competition

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

LAWRENCE — Three student teams from the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Kansas have won prestigious design awards from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), adding to KU’s rich history of recognition in AIAA competition.

Students in the program have won more first-, second- and third-place aerospace design awards in the competition than at any other university in the world.

“This is fantastic,” said Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, professor of aerospace engineering, who advised the winning teams. “First of all it’s visibility — we’re visible on the international stage. But it’s also the mark of an extremely high level of quality our program maintains.”

This year’s honorees won awards in competitions for graduate students.

Team Road Runner won second place in the missile design competition. The teams were challenged to design a supersonic aerial target drone capable of representing a variety of supersonic airborne cruise missile threats — a tool to aid the U.S. military in its training exercises. Historically, similar missiles have required booster rockets for ground launch; Team Road Runner proposed using a rail-based launch system instead. The team was led by Max Johnson and included Jacob Gorman, Justin Matt, Steven Meis, Andrew Mills and Nathan Sunnarborg.

Team FREEDOM (Fast Response Enemy Emulating Defense Operations Missile) took third place in the same category. The proposed design featured a two-stage missile to be launched from the trailer of a truck. Team members were Nicholas Stefan, who served as leader, as well as Mehdi Pedari, Jacquelyn Rech, Kylie Crawford and Kyle Herda.

Team Super Aerial Bros won third place in the aircraft design competition. Competitors were tasked with designing a general aviation training aircraft to train the next generation of airline pilots. Team members were Grant Godfrey, Brio Ratzlaff, Francisco Caceres, Thomas Kennedy, and Tyler Schwallie.

Over the past decade, KU aerospace engineering students have won more than three dozen international AIAA aerospace awards. Students typically participate in the competitions as part of a “capstone” project at the end of their academic careers.

Barrett-Gonzalez said students benefit from the program’s relationships with other departments on KU campus — picking up design skills, for example, from the School of Architecture & Design — and proximity to major aerospace manufacturing hubs in Wichita, Overland Park and Olathe. Students on the winning teams made trips to Wichita for a firsthand look at the aircraft production process.

“It’s the state’s largest manufacturing industry — two-thirds of the aircraft made in the western world are made in Kansas,” Barrett-Gonzalez said. “Many Kansans don’t even realize how important the aerospace industry is to us.”

KU aerospace engineering students have been winning awards at AIAA competition since 1969.

“It’s not just the strength of one adviser or one class but that the entire program has maintained a high level of quality through the years,” Barrett-Gonzalez said. “This indicates the strength of all the faculty members in our department. This is not just a one-off event.”


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