For many undergraduate students, the application of the skills they have been practicing throughout their academic careers is limited to personal projects and small in-class endeavors. The AIAA Design-Build-Fly (DBF) Competition provides students with an opportunity to solve problems that they might not encounter in any other context, and in the process gain valuable experience designing and managing a complex, interdisciplinary, year-long project. Many aerospace graduates and engineers in the field cite DBF as a defining part of their undergraduate experience, both in the context of engineering and project management. In addition to its educational significance, DBF is also an invaluable resource for career-building. The connections made at the competition often last well into one’s career and can prove invaluable in the small world of aerospace engineering.
UNIVERSITY’s Student AIAA Chapter has steadily grown since its inception in 2015. Since then, the club’s size has steadily increased, as well as its notoriety on campus as a successful and engaging student group. The design team’s headquarters is located LOCATION on campus, making the design process visible to engineers and aspiring engineers alike. UNIVERSITY’s entries in the DBF competition have grown more and more competitive, qualifying for the Flight Demonstration every year, and steadily rising in final placing, finishing 23rd of 104 teams last year.
DBF Design. For 2019, the challenge was to design and build an aircraft replicating the role of a carrier-based AWACS aircraft, while also being capable of attack operations. The plane had to have folding wings and be able to roll through a 4x2 ft box, simulating storage below decks on a carrier. It also had to possess the ability to autonomously unfold and lock wings and take off from an 8-foot ramp. In addition, the plane had to have the capacity to carry at least 4 “attack stores” (foam footballs) and a removable radar dome that turned on its own. The pivot required to take a year’s worth of experience building last year’s ultra-light, extremely small aircraft, and direct it towards the design of a very different vehicle, was significant, but the team achieved it with a great outpouring of effort and teamwork.
Team Building. As shown in previous years, starting the effort with a focus on conceptual understanding dramatically increases incoming members’ ability to contribute ideas. The chapter’s goal is to foster intrinsic interest in members by helping them find personal success quickly, so they can feel encouraged to contribute later. Some of the key focus areas have included: (1) Providing additional flight simulators so members could get the tactile experience of flying a UAS; (2) Adding material resources to expand the introduction program, so every incoming member may design and fly their own aircraft before moving onto the actual competition design.
Lessons Learned. Throughout the DBF process many mistakes are made, but a continuous effort to learn from past errors keeps the process improving. Major improvements include: (1) Iterative. Increased focus has been placed on preflight tests, data capture, and post flight review; (2) Annual. Weekly management and complete team meetings are being reinforced with better organization coming from agendas and meeting notes published to an internal wiki. In addition to instituting a better meeting structure, the team’s organization structure was also revised.
Member Retention. One of the main areas the team fell short this year was in member retention. In prior years, the kickoff was marked by a team barbeque, and work was put into maintaining the club as a consistently fun place to be. The more serious and mass recruiting approach adopted this year alienated a larger percentage of members, but also attracted a larger number. For the coming year, the team is planning on redoubling efforts to both attract more members, retain, and train them.
Finally, the chapter is also looking into expanding scholastic and community involvement. Participating in university open houses has increased recognition, but this year was the clubs first involvement in a local engineering chapter conference and funding reception from an external sponsor. In addition to expanding external university relations the club has been building interdepartmental cooperation. Because of similar focuses the Robotic Mining team has collaborated on 3D printing technologies, and club members have begun building pilot training simulations for the FAA TEST SITE.
This paper will feature design and performance details of this year’s DBF aircraft, which have been captured already in the team’s final report and other documentation. The primary thrust of this paper will be delivered from the student participant/leadership perspective. One author is the team faculty mentor, who can provide additional continuity of experience to the team’s lessons learned and future direction.
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