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Aerospace Engineering Design Team Heads to Aircraft Competition

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Equipped with a few design modifications, more experience at the controls and additional knowledge on how to capitalize on opportunities and minimize mistakes, members of the University of Kansas School of Engineering Jayhawk Heavy Lift team are preparing for their second aircraft competition of the year.

Society of Automotive Engineers Aero Design East is Friday, April 27, to Sunday, April 29, in Marietta, Ga.  The KU team has spent the past several weeks improving the design of its radio-controlled aircraft based on what team members learned at the SAE Aero Design West competition in mid-March, where KU placed 15th out of 35 teams.

“We discovered we had too much weight distributed to the nose landing gear,” said Justin Howard, a senior in aerospace engineering and captain of this year’s Jayhawk Heavy Lift team.  “We realized we could lighten our structure dramatically because our plane took decently large crashes and was still sound besides a landing gear falling off,” Howard said.

The competition asks students to design and build an aircraft that can successfully carry the most weight. However, there are some constraints.  The aircraft cannot exceed 55 pounds, so teams strive to make the body of the plane as light as possible, allowing for a heavier payload and a chance at a higher score.  After takeoff, the plane must complete one full circle of the field, before touching down in a 400-foot landing zone.  The aircraft must land completely intact for the flight to be considered successful and the team to receive points. 

Team members have been busy making adjustments to the aircraft they hope will give them an edge when they head to the east competition.

“We added more lightening holes in our ribs to reduce weight,” Howard said.  “We tried cutting weight any possible place we can, since a little weight here and there really adds up.”

In addition to the flight tests, teams are judged on a technical report, presentation and inspection of their aircraft.  Once teams hit the airfield for the flight competition, they face another set of challenges. 

Howard expects the team to be ready when it’s time to take to the skies.

“I feel we will be more prepared for the east competition because of the changes we made, but you never know what will happen since teams will be pushing their planes to their maxes,” Howard said.  “The east competition is traditionally a much tougher field, so we will have to work hard and be on the top of our game to come home with a top finish.”

KU’s Transportation Research Institute (TRI) was instrumental in getting the club off the ground for this year’s competitions, providing travel funds and money to purchase key equipment.  The team is competing under the name “Honea Hawks” in recognition of TRI’s director, Bob Honea. 

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