U students’ design wins competition

Engineering students prepared for the competition since fall semester.

Last month, a team of six University aerospace engineering seniors won first place at an international competition of remote controlled planes called Aero Design West.

After preparing all year through a University class, two University teams travelled to the Texas contest. The winning students competed to create a small plane that could carry the heaviest payload. The other team took 11th place in a different class of competition.

Team leader of the winning group Jason Breeggemann, an aerospace engineering senior, said nerves ran high at the competition after seeing the international teams arrive and realizing it was the culmination of eight months of work.

“You know a team didn’t fly from Poland unless they had a really good design,” he said. “We had a lot depending on 16 ounces of balsa (wood) up there.”

However, Breeggemann said he knew the team had a winner as soon as their best flight took off. Their one-pound plane managed to carry twice its weight, the highest in the field.

Fellow group member Brian Nackerud, an aerospace engineering senior, said the victory was sweet and was the goal they set back in September.

The group said their victory stemmed from their approach to the project at the beginning of the year. Nackerud said at first most the group was clueless as to how to approach the project, but then they decided to reverse engineer the plane.

They studied the scoring formula for the competition, Breeggemann said, and then engineered a plane that could take advantage of it.

The professor of their class, Jeff Hammer, said he was proud of his students that out designed their counterparts.

“They out thought the other teams,” he said. “It was an engineering victory.”

From the very beginning, their goal was to minimize the weight of their plane. Throughout the year the engineers had to find any way to lose as much weight as possible, going as far as to measure the amount of glue they used to hold it together.

Nackerud said their focus was on weight, but they continually had to deal with other problems. For example, their landing gear gave them trouble all semester and they even had to repair it after their second flight of the competition.

Because the course grade is decided on the completeness of the plane and not the competition, Hammer said his biggest concern was the plane’s strength and stability.

Nackerud compared their juggling of priorities to solving a Rubik’s Cube, working on many different things at once while trying to make them all work in harmony.

The students decided they would create planes to compete in April on the first day of their AEM 4331: Aerospace Vehicle Design class. The class, which is designed to mirror the professional industry, required the team to negotiate a contract with their professor. Then, they had a semester to design and a semester to deliver the plane on a budget.

Breeggemann said it was a class he looked forward to because it gave him a chance to get away from bookwork.

“It’s an actual chance to apply our knowledge and not just learn more,” he said.

The class gave them a chance to work together on an extended basis, which doesn’t normally happen in the major, Nackerud said. He added he was most proud of how the team collaborated.

“It took the whole team to do what we did,” Nackerud said. “Everyone had to do a certain little piece, and everyone carried their own weight.”