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ABOVE: Members of the AIAA team pose with their partially finished airplane. From left: Tim Prost, Caleb Gronewold, Taylor Young, Derek Stevens, Earle Mock, Andrew Kocarnik, and Charles Nichols.
Photo Courtesy: Lindsay Griggs

This year a group of engineering students participated in the National American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Design-Build-Fly Competition in Wichita, Kan., April 16-18. Cessna Aircraft Corporation and Raytheon Missile Systems also hosted the competition, with schools from around the country participating.

This year’s competition was called the “Baseball Team Plane.” The goal was to run three successful flights carrying six to 10 softballs and up to five bats around a flight pattern in the least possible time. AIAA’s Web site stated, “Student teams will design, fabricate, and demonstrate the flight capabilities of an unmanned, electric powered, radio controlled aircraft that can best meet the specified mission profile. The goal is a balanced design possessing good demonstrated flight handling qualities and practical and affordable manufacturing requirements while providing a high vehicle performance.”

ABOVE: OV10-Bronco
Photo Courtesy: LIndsay Griggs

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s team was headed by four seniors: Tim Prost, Andrew Kocarnik, Earle Mock, and Chris Benner. Along with the rest of the group, they came up with a plane design based on the OV10-Bronco and the competition’s payload requirements. The project was then split into four groups: Propulsion, Controls, Aerodynamics, and Structures. The group received $1,200 from the Mechanical Engineering Department and $500 from the Engineering Student Advisory Board (eSAB) for the project. One change was made to the plane design that differed from the OV10-Bronco: the elevator was moved from the top of the rudders to the bottom for ease of construction and control.

The fuselage is made up of plywood ribs, the ribs and spars of the wings of balsa wood and basswood, the nose and tail cones of foam, and the booms under the wings of aluminum. A laser cutter at Architecture Hall was used to cut all the wood pieces for the plane. The entire structure was then covered in Monokote, a heat based shrink-wrap to provide the outer shell of the plane. The airplane used nickel metal hydride batteries, two brushless electric motors, and two counter-rotating propellers. The entire airplane weighed between 20 and 25 lbs. fully assembled.

The baseballs were loaded into the fuselage of the plane in an egg-crate-like foam box and the bats sat on pegs on the sides and top of the plane. The nose cone was hinged to allow the egg-crate to be slid in and out of the fuselage easily. This is done because payload-loading time is part of the overall run time. Their goal for the competition was a top speed of 55 mph.

ABOVE:Andrew Kocarnik glues pieces for the wing of the plane.
Photo Courtesy: Lindsay Griggs

In their first time competing, the UNL team successfully flew one of their three missions. The team placed 46th out of 69 teams. They beat several schools who had been part of the competition in previous years, and were one of the few schools represented that did not have an aerospace engineering program.

Competition Facts

  • 1st Prize: $2,500, 2nd Prize: $1,500, 3rd Prize $1,000
  • Maximum 60-page report document detailing the design, manufacturing process, and mechanical drawings of the plane.
  • Payload: 6-10 softballs, five 2 inch diameter bats
  • All flight hardware must fit in a 2’x2’x4’ case
  • 3 missions
  • Can only use NiCad or NiMH batteries; total battery weight must be under 4 lbs.
  • Aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. fully loaded

For more information about AIAA, contact Dr. Kevin Cole, Mechanical Engineering.