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AIAA student chapter soars to second place at national competition

Students with their plane

UIC’s American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) student chapter swooped in to capture second place on April 23rd during the annual Mountaineer Collegiate UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) Fly-Off Competition sponsored by the AIAA, Cessna Aircraft, and Raytheon Missile Systems at Louis Bennett Field in Jane Lew, West Virginia. Each year, teams from all across the world design, assemble, and fly a remote controlled aircraft to meet the design requirements for a given year’s competition.

The UIC’s DBF (Design/Build/Fly) Team built and flew two radio-controlled airplanes as they competed in three technical flight missions throughout the day. The missions included Gatorade transportation, timed flight and aircraft transportation, and delivery and assembly.

“We were scored based on flight performance,” said Jameel Darwish, a sophomore in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE). “The performance is based on how long it takes you to complete a task, the number of laps completed, the weight of the airplane, and amount of batteries used.”

One mission had the team disassembling their smaller plane, placing it inside the larger plane, and flying it to another location.

“We had to balance efficiency as well as weight of the aircraft,” said Darwish. “We start with the missions, look at our objectives, how heavy the plane has to be, what it has to do, and how long it has to be in the air.”

Before the competition, the team had to overcome multiple challenges. A core of 14 members continuously working on the planes and an additional 26 students contributed at various stages of design and fabrication over a six- to seven-month time span. After all that work, the team tested their planes with a certified pilot to see how it will perform.

“Immediately we found all the flaws and had to bring it back to the shop to fix them,” said Darwish, of Naperville, Ill. “It was a learning experience for all of us. Our first successful flight was at the competition.”

“I work with all of the [AIAA] teams,” added Jacqueline Swift, President of AIAA at UIC and a senior in MIE. “For this team, I printed the 3D parts for the plane. I was [at UIC] at 4 a.m. printing parts the day they left for the competition.”

The team was scheduled to send 25 representatives to the competition, but only a skeleton crew of six members were able to make the trek. When they arrived in in West Virginia and started to work, they ran into more problems.

“I had to drive three hours to a hobby store to get parts for the plane due to an oversight in an order,” said Darwish. “It was stressful, but a good experience. I will do it again.”

A strong work ethic, teamwork and the engineering mentality of producing a quality product kept the team in good spirits as they worked on the planes for nearly 48 hours before going to the airfield. It was this determination that flew them into second place. And it was the excitement of watching their plane soar that earned them the award for the most enthusiastic team, too.

“It was fun,” added Matheus Scotti, an MIE sophomore from Brazil. “We got the most enthusiastic team award, and I think we deserved it. It was exciting to see the planes fly after all the work we put into it.”

UIC competed against 12 schools, which included the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Alfred University, Clarkson University, Manhattan College, Miami University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Syracuse University, The City College of New York, Ohio State University, University of Arizona, University of Miami, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and West Virginia University.

Next on the agenda for the Design DBF team is the NASA DEP Challenge, which is a design report the team is submitting this month.

“We have three different teams within AIAA,” said Swift, of Menominee, Ill. “We have our quad team, the DBF Team, and the Rocket Team.”

The AIAA student chapter at UIC is a student run organization primarily dedicated to the study of aerospace and propulsion engineering. The members design and build remote controlled aircrafts, high-powered rockets, and quad-copters for competitions.

UIC’s Rocket Team is scheduled to compete at the 11th Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition in June in Green River, Utah. Last year, the team UIC won the “Closest to the Pin Award” and the “Team Sportsmanship Award” for willingness to help others at the they competed against teams from 36 colleges in seven countries.