Poly Students' Aircraft Soars to Third Place in International Competition

A team of engineering students from Polytechnic University designed and flew a scale airplane in the annual Aero Design West Competition, taking home third place in the micro class division and $500. This year’s competition attracted 39 competitive teams from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Mexico to beautiful Van Nuys, California.

The Aero Design Competition, sponsored by SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers), challenges engineering students to conceive, design, fabricate, and test a radio controlled aircraft that can take off and land while carrying the maximum cargo. This gives students the opportunity to apply the classroom knowledge to a practical problem.

Leonid Simkin (ME ’07), Sourabh Mathur (ME ’07), and Michal Pietrzak (ME ’07) developed the award-winning aircraft, and Parth Kumar (ME ’08) and Eric D. Laird (ME/Physics ’07) contributed technical and logistical support. The plane was a micro class heavy-lift airplane with a wingspan of 3 feet and a 0.3HP engine. The plane's payload made up a remarkable 75% of its total weight. Professor Said Nourbakhsh served as faculty advisor for the team, while Professor Kalkhoran and Professor Gupta also provided support.

The Poly team started the competition strong on Friday, March 23, losing no point deductions during the rigorous technical inspection of the model. The main event began early Saturday morning, but the Poly plane had a persistent problem of veering off to the left on takeoff. Unfortunately this setback prevented the plane’s entry into any of the rounds that morning.

Parth Kumar solved the problem brilliantly by realigning the motor so that the gyroscopic effect of the propeller was offset by the air flow. The team registered in time for the fourth round, and the plane finally lifted off. It traveled in a superb flight path around the field, but crashed into pieces on a difficult landing. That evening the resilient team constructed another plane reinforced with carbon fiber.

On Sunday morning the Poly plane once again took off successfully. Despite interference from wind, the plane landed safely and moved into second place. But it wasn't to last. In a stroke of hard luck, the Polytechnic entry was edged out in the last round by a plane built by UC Davis, and ended up with a third place finish. Queens University of Ontario took first place.

"We were pleased with the result," said Sourabh Mathur. "It was very close at the end. We still came away with third place. The Aero Design Series is very competitive, and a lot of teams go back year after year and never win anything. To accomplish what we've managed to in just our second trip, it sends a message that we need to be taken seriously."

Eric Laird added, "The finish was tough, but you can't be too concerned with the things that are outside your control. Other teams are shooting for the same thing we are. We've got some big ideas for next year, so they'll have to be ready for us."

The group finished the trip with a visit to the beach in Santa Monica and a stroll down Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. They eagerly await next year's competition in Austin, Texas.