Embry-Riddle Students Celebrate Highest Finish at Aircraft Competition

AIAA Competition Team Embry-Riddle Prescott

by Michelle Tissot

Gusting wind and pouring rain added extra challenge to the 20th annual AIAA Cessna/Raytheon Missile Systems Student Design-Build-Fly competition, but that didn't stop the Embry-Riddle Prescott team from securing its highest finish. The team placed 12th this year, outperforming 118 other teams including Southern Cal, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, MIT, and the University of Washington, while surpassing its previous marks of 30th last year, 42nd the year before, and 62nd in 2013.  

AIAA Embry-Riddle Prescott model plane

The competition required teams to create a radio-controlled aircraft that would travel an 800-meter course with a payload of a second aircraft or parts of an aircraft that could be assembled.

"Our extra-curricular team of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors fared incredibly well against teams consisting of graduate students, and teams that do design-build-fly as a senior capstone projects," said junior Andres Sandoval, AIAA Design-Build-Fly Team President. 

The team went through the design process similarly to how it is done in the senior Preliminary Design and Detail, and in industry; it completed a proposal and a detail design report. 

"We built two successful prototypes, and flew as early as November, just two months after the mission requirements were released," Sandoval said. 

After completion of the final aircraft, the team sent six representatives to the fly-off at Cessna field in Wichita, KS, where it completed every one of its missions on the first try.

In addition to the challenging weather, this year's competition was a tall order to fill, with two aircraft needing to be designed instead of just one like in years past. 

AIAA Flight Prep Embry-Riddle Prescott

"This required twice the design work, twice the manufacturing, twice the testing, and twice the time dedicated to the project, all outside of our usual academic course-load," Sandoval said. "Facing tough mission requirements, tough weather, and tough competition, we came through and designed aircraft that finished all of the missions to the best of our ability, with the resources available to us. It was a great experience!"

Sandoval credited the Student Government Association, the Undergraduate Research Institute, the College of Engineering, and their advisers for making the experience and success possible.

"We could not have made it this far without their help," Sandoval said. "We plan to use the experience, knowledge, and skills acquired this year, and from years past, to continue to improve and place even higher next year." 

Prescott Engineering faculty and mentor Bill Zwick summed it up nicely. “I am proud of the effort the students put into this competition and the fantastic result. Considering that the competition included grad students and students using this as a 3-credit course, we did very well. They overcame strong winds (20 to 30 mph) that other entrants couldn't fly in, and even did some last-minute failure investigation, diagnosis and repair that threatened our MSA aircraft. In all, it was both challenging and rewarding!”

For more information on Prescott’s AIAA Design-Build-Fly Team contact Andres Sandoval at sandova7@my.erau.edu.