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Six Lafayette seniors are making improvements on a model plane in hopes of winning the Society of Automotive Engineers Aero Design East Competition May 2-4 in Dayton, Ohio.

The plane is being redesigned and constructed for a year-long senior design project by mechanical engineering majors Ellen Rogers (Columbia, Md.), Joseph Hamill (Mahopac, N.Y.), Jen Corvigno (Doylestown, Pa.), Katie Powell (Allentown, Pa.), Carrie Holibonich (Severna Park, Md.), and Brian Azara (Staten Island, N.Y.). Their adviser is Erol Ulucakli, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

The students spent last semester gathering information and planning and designing their model, first by examining the “Cloud Kickers” plane built by a group of Lafayette mechanical engineering seniors last year and determining what changes needed to be made.

“Since no one in our group had any background in the building of a radio-controlled airplane, most of the semester was spent learning about airplanes and the basics of flight,” says Rogers.

Other mechanical engineering senior design projects this year include a one-person submarine and a redesigned BattleBot.

The airplane project allows the students to become involved in every aspect of plane design, using complex calculations to determine what kinds of materials and shapes should be used for the parts. The team had to choose what type of controller, engine, wing design, and landing gear, among other things, that it would use on the model, named “Little Chief.” It also minimized wasted space and excess material in its design.

This semester, the students are busy implementing their designs in building the model. They plan to contact the pilot who flew last year’s plane to help them perform test runs before the competition and possibly fly their plane in the actual competition as well.

“I think this experience will be very beneficial,” says Corvigno. “You’re starting from scratch to build something and have to learn all aspects of it, including research, problem solving, presentation, building, and report writing.

“That’s one of the good things about Lafayette — you get exposure to these kinds of projects which allow you to apply what you learn in class. That helps me, especially because I am a visual learner.”

At the contest, the team will be evaluated on its design, which will be outlined in a written report, and on the performance of the plane, which will be controlled by a professional pilot. The fuselage, or central body of the aircraft, must contain a minimum cargo bay of 300 cubic inches, and the maximum wingspan is 183 cm. Each plane must demonstrate that it is capable of taking off within a 200-foot runway and successfully land while carrying a minimum payload of eight pounds. Increasing amounts of weight will be added to the planes at the competition to determine how much they can carry.

Powell says that the concept of the contest makes their building experience an interesting challenge: “Usually you try to make planes as light as possible in order to fly, but instead we will have to make our plane carry as much weight as possible.”

For Holibonich, this is an opportunity to explore her life-long interest in airplanes and flying.

“As a little kid, my dream was to become a Navy fighter pilot when I grew up,” she says. “I outgrew the dream, but I retained my interest in aviation, so I was biased towards this project when I heard that we would be able to build and design our own airplane.”

“I’ve learned a lot about the basics of how a plane functions and about the mechanics of flying,” she adds. “Airplanes are so complex, even at the basic level and smaller scale at which we are designing, so it’s been an interesting experience all around.”

Holibonich says that the biggest challenge of the project has been the fuselage design.

“I really put a lot of heart and work into designing the shape of it and its required cargo bay,” she says. “It was a fun challenge trying to ‘conceptualize’ a new body style for an airplane like ours.”

She says that although she and her fellow group members have had weekly meetings with Ulucakli, Lafayette also gives the students the space to design the airplane on their own, which allowed them to explore their own ideas and manage the project as a whole.

Categorized in: Academic News