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Students to Compete in Aero Design Competition

Monday, March 1, 2010

A group of University of Kansas aerospace engineering students is hoping a unique design will propel them to great heights at a prestigious model aircraft competition.

Twelve students from two advanced aerospace engineering classes have devoted hundreds of hours to designing the aircraft for the 2010 Society of Automotive Engineers Aero Design competition, to be held March 5-7 in Van Nuys, Calif.

The contest forces students to pack a lot of power into a small package. Teams are tasked with designing an aircraft that will carry as much weight as possible during flight and then land successfully. There are restrictions on the size of the motor — which weighs 12 ounces and has about 66 percent of the power of a lawn mower. The plane must weigh fewer than 55 pounds, and its span, length and height must total fewer than 200 inches.

Team captain Brian Cordes, a senior from Lansing, said the goal is for the team’s 11-pound plane, “AE Thug Life,” to carry a load of up to 34 pounds. The team hopes to achieve this with some unconventional design techniques. The space that carries the payload on KU’s plane sits elevated behind the propeller, allowing the prop wash to flow freely under it, reducing wind resistance.

“It will reduce the amount of air resistance and should allow for greater thrust and lift,” Cordes said.

The students are putting the finishing touches on the plane and have done several test flights at the Jayhawk Model Masters airfield near Clinton Lake at the southwest edge of Lawrence. 

KU is one of 44 teams from seven countries attending the competition. Teams will be judged on how the plane flies, its overall design and a student presentation on the project.

Ronald Barrett-Gonzalez, associate professor of aerospace engineering, oversees the team’s work from afar — professors are not allowed to help.

“It’s really an exciting project,” Barrett-Gonzalez said. “The team actually gets to put into practice all the things they learn.”

Not only is there a cash prize on the line — $1,000 is awarded for finishing first in the overall design category — but students’ grades as well.

“If we crash, we fail this part of the class and we’re way behind in our grade,” Cordes said. “Luckily, our pilot has over 13 years of experience and has only crashed a plane once.”

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