(Updated 10/20/2014, 11:15am - added to Q&A's)

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Some of the excited 2014 participants!

The Aerospace Engineering department annually sponsors an aircraft design competition. The goal is to encourage involvement in a fun and educational activity.

Competing teams design and build an electric-powered, remote controlled, aircraft to fly a challenging mission. Undergraduate winners get their names on the Bronze Propeller Trophy. The sixth annual competition will be held in April 2015.

There are three participant categories: WSU undergraduate; high school; and professional. WSU aerospace alumni and graduate students participate in the professional category.

A successful design is well understood and properly developed from the beginning.  Don’t let someone create a better overall design than you. Use engineering principles and methods to win!

Don't be shy. Form a team, build a plane, and fly! Mentors for high school and underclassmen student teams are recommended. Contact Dr. Miller for help finding a mentor.

Mission, Rules, & Guidelines
This year's mission is "A High-Speed, Short-Field, & Heavy-Lift Aircraft." A successful mission profile includes the following:

  1. Takeoff
  2. Fly four complete figure-8 laps
  3. Approach and land successfully

Competing planes must meet the following minimum requirements and constraints:

  1. The aircraft must be fixed wing (no rotorcraft, airship, etc.)
  2. The aircraft must utilize a single WSU supplied battery pack driving an electric motor and propeller
  3. A 15-Amp propulsion system fuse must be utilized
  4. The fuse must be safely and quickly accessible (located at least 6-inches behind the prop and easy to install/remove)
  5. Internal combustion, jet, or rocket engines are not allowed
  6. Aircraft wingspan is limited to 5-ft
  7. At least four (4) tennis balls, supplied by WSU, must be flown at all times
  8. Provisions for the pilot to quickly release the tennis balls in flight, during an emergency, are highly recommended
  9. The plane must be passively stable and human controlled
  10. The aircraft must be made predominantly of commonly available model aircraft wood (e.g., balsa wood, basswood, or spruce) of 1/32-inch, 1/16-inch, or 1/8-inch starting thickness
  11. Less than 0.5-oz of foam can be used for aerodynamic fairings (e.g., wing-fuselage fillets, nose cone, etc.)
  12. Wing surfaces must be wood skinned (typically 1/32-in sheet, softened using Windex during assembly)
  13. Wings, and other significant lifting surfaces, cannot use heat shrink or other similar coverings for aerodynamic shaping (e.g., no UltraCote, MonoKote, Coverite, fabric, tissue, paper, etc.)
  14. Heat shrink or other similar coverings can be used to make the plane pretty or to improve visibility for the pilot (the wing’s shape must be exactly the same without coverings)
  15. The vertical/horizontal tails and control surfaces must be wood (use of covering to create surfaces is not allowed)
  16. Heat shrink or other similar aerodynamics coverings can be used to cover only a fuselage, if desired
  17. The use of composite materials is prohibited (e.g., no graphite, fiberglass, Kevlar, etc.)
  18. The use of metal construction materials is prohibited (e.g., no aluminum, steel, titanium, etc. tubes, channels, sheet, etc.)
  19. Rubber bands can be used to mount wings (common model airplane practice)
  20. All aircraft components must remain attached to the plane during a mission to obtain a score
  21. Mission scores will not be counted for aircraft sustaining significant damage
  22. The use of any type of tape to secure anything on the plane is prohibited
  23. The use of Velcro to secure servos is prohibited (they should be screw mounted)
  24. Velcro may be used to secure only the battery, Electronic Speed Control (ESC), receiver (RX), and wires
  25. The aircraft must be 100% conceived, designed, and built by participating team members (no one else)
  26. Ideally, there will be 2-4 competition days scheduled in April (~10am to 4pm)
  27. A designated WSU pilot will fly the plane at the competition
  28. Teams have 5-minutes to takeoff once they are called to fly (otherwise they lose their spot in the flight queue and they earn a strike)
  29. Teams who get three strikes can no longer fly in the competition
  30. Deadlines for submitting department support, part, system, cutting, and other requests will be established in the spring and must be satisfied
  31. All competition rules, requirements, and constraints are subject to interpretation and change at Dr. Miller’s discretion
  32. Additional rules, requirements, and constraints can be added anytime
  33. Review all sections of this web page regularly, especially the Q&A’s
  34. Team members assume all risk with respect to disqualificationThe aircraft must be wing borne, not a rotorcraft, airship, etc.

The exact flying location will be announced soon. The course dimensions are approximately 400x100-ft. Planes are expected to fly within this area at all times. The runway will be in the center and turns will be approximately 300-ft apart.

The competition score (SCR) is calculated using the following equation,

SCR=[(NB/4)^2] x (300/MT) x (100/TLF)

Where NB is the number of tennis balls flown, MT is the mission time (seconds), and TLF is the Takeoff/Landing Footprint (ft) rounded to the nearest foot.

Mission time (MT) begins the moment the plane starts to move and ends when the plane comes to rest after completing the mission landing.

The Takeoff/Landing Footprint (TLF) is the largest amount of runway centerline distance used during either the takeoff or landing. The TLF distance is measured from the designated downwind end of the runway.

A team’s best score, from all completed mission attempts, is used in determining final competition results.

Required Power System
Each plane must fly with a single Thunder Power PF70 Series LiPo three-cell battery pack. The pack will be supplied by WSU during the competition. The battery pack will operate the motor, ESC, receiver, and servos.

The manufacturer claims:

  • The pack size is 0.6-inches x 1.0-inches x 1.8-inches
  • The pack weight is 1.2-oz
  • The operating voltage is 11.1V and the capacity is 325-mAh
  • It uses 18AWG Wire w/JST connector

Actual WSU measured performance test results, for four different current levels, can be downloaded here.

There is a possibility that a specific Electronic Speed Control (ESC) will be required for all competitors as well. Please keep your eye on this site for updates.

Important Comments
All rules, requirements, and constraints are subject to interpretation and change by Dr. Miller.
Additional rules, requirements, and constraints can be added anytime.

Team members assume all risk with respect to disqualification (i.e., SCR=0).

Be sure to check the Questions & Answers (Q&A’s) section regularly.

A successful design is well understood and properly developed from the beginning. Don’t let someone create a better overall design!

Use engineering principles and methods to win!

Department Support & Mentors
The planes will be inexpensive to build. However, some teams may be eligible for limited AE department assistance to help build their plane (e.g., radio gear, motor, assorted supplies, laser cutting, etc.).

Additionally, as mentioned, the department will do what it can to provide mentors to help less experienced teams.

Deadlines for submitting department support, laser cutting, and other requests will be established in the spring semester. Teams must meet these deadlines.

Contact Dr. Miller for further information on mini-grant and mentor opportunities.

Engineer of 2020
Eligible WSU students, especially seniors, might be able to gain “Engineer of 2020” service-learning credit. These opportunities must be prearranged.  Contact Dr. Miller for further information.

2015 Competition Flyer
Click here to download a Bronze Propeller flyer that you can post or share with friends. Spread the word, form a team, and compete.


Questions & Answers (coming soon)
Visit this section regularly for official Questions and Answers (Q&A’s) that can have an impact on your design efforts.

Q1:  Can the plane’s configuration change between mission attempts?
A1:  No. The plane’s design must stay fundamentally the same throughout the competition.

Q2:  Can tennis balls be strapped or mounted to the aircraft exterior?
A2:  No. The payload must be enclosed within the airframe.

Q3:  Can the plane be hand-launched?
A3:  Yes, if desired, but by just one team member (following a safety review and formal approval).

Q4:  Is the TLF value for a hand-launched plane equal to zero?
A4:  No. The TLF value relates to the actual physical space needed for takeoff or landing. Thus, the minimum TLF value is dependent most on the plane’s dimensions.

Q5:  Can a person catch the plane on landing?
A5:  No! A plane cannot be caught by anyone. Safety is a serious concern. Everyone must be clear of the flying area after takeoff.

Q6:  Is it okay if parts of the plane drop, fall, or touch the ground during a mission?
A6:  No. Anything significant parting from the plane or impacting the ground will terminate a mission attempt.

Q7:  Can putty, epoxy-mixtures, or similar be used to build the plane?
A7:  No, if it is load bearing. Yes, if it is simply used to aerodynamically smooth the airframe.

Q8:  Can the aircraft land off the runway?
A8:  No, takeoffs and landings away from the runway are not permitted.

Remember to check this area regularly! Contact Dr. Miller, by email, with questions - scott.miller@wichita.edu


Competition Flying Days & Other Information
Competition flying days will be announced in the spring. Ideally, there will be 2-4 competition days scheduled in April (~10am to 4pm).

Field availability and the weather (WX) are dynamic and require last minute attention. So visit this site regularly for up-to-the-minute information!

Additional Information 
Contact Dr. Miller, by email, with questions - scott.miller@wichita.edu

"What I cannot build, I cannot understand" - Feynman


Visit this page often, don't miss important Q&A's and competition news!