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Design/Build/Fly student project team battles inclement weather to soar to a strong finish

The Ohio State University placed 28 out of 91 teams overall at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) 2018 Design/Build/Fly (DBF) competition. In the oral and written presentation category, the team scored the highest among Big Ten competitors at the international contest.

2018 Design/Build/Fly team2018 Design/Build/Fly team: (l to r, back row) Hunter Jones, Weston Cummins, Austin Karr, Chris Silvao, Austin Petsche, Patrick Cleaves; (l to r, front row) Isaac Faust, Ian Stamm, Jackson Deitrick, Zack Frederick (team leader) “Ohio State has become a serious contender at the annual AIAA DBF fly-off competition, placing top in the Big Ten for the second year in a row,” said Faculty Advisor Cliff Whitfield.

A team of 11 undergraduate students traveled to Textron Aviation, where the fly-off competition was held April 19-22 at Cessna Field in Wichita, KS. There, they demonstrated their student-designed and -fabricated unmanned aircraft, which is electric-powered, radio-controlled.

The 2018 competition—themed Regional and Business Aircraft—focused on designing a dual-purpose, regional and business aircraft capable of performing various missions, including transporting bouncy ball "passengers" and "cargo" payload blocks.

This year, Ohio State’s innovative team built a three-and-a-half-pound biplane, "Buckeye Fly-Bi,” with a 24-inch wingspan in preparation for the competition’s objectives.

Team member Patrick Cleaves adjusts the Buckeye Fly-Bi at competitionTeam member Patrick Cleaves adjusts the Buckeye Fly-Bi at competition“The Buckeye Fly-Bi comfortably carried two passengers and a single, foam payload block,” said team member and aerospace engineering major Austin Petsche.

But the mission requirements weren’t the only factors influencing this year’s design. In anticipation of the competition being held in the windy environment of Wichita, KS, the team performed a multitude of propulsion tests in Ohio State’s Bolz Hall wind tunnel in order to develop a system worthy of taking on the elements.

And those wind tunnel tests certainly paid off.

“The weather was unforgiving, with winds pushing 25 miles per hour and constant rain showers throughout the week, but we were prepared,” said Petsche.

“Despite the runway being shut down early due to the weather, resulting in the team not being allowed to complete its third flight mission, we still had a strong finish.”

Another element contributing to the team’s success was the work of sub-teams to address design challenges. Various integral projects included designing magnetic parts for easy access to and replacement of the control surfaces, propulsion system and internal components of the vehicle.

Whitfield, who is an associate professor of practice of aerospace engineering, is impressed with the team’s development. “This is the second year that we've been able to incorporate senior sub-teams in experimental projects that support the Design/Build/Fly student organization,” he said. “Along with a great group of underclassmen, they have had amazing results.”

by Holly Henley, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering