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Leopard Aviation, getting off the ground at only its second competition, soared at the Aero Design East Competition April 8-10, finishing first in oral design presentation and second in overall design.

Hosted by the University of Central Florida, the competition was held at Deland RC Airfield in Orlando, Fla., with a total of 32 teams competing. Lafayette’s team of nine senior mechanical engineering majors, led by Samantha Blais (Gray, Maine), spent the year researching, designing, and building planes for competition. Joining Blais were Dan Berteletti (Canton, Mass.), Brian Hauser (Ballston Spa, N.Y.), Mike McGinnis (Binghamton, N.Y.), Marquis Scholar Andrew Sanchez (Maplewood, N.J.), Mark Wayne Scott (Moscow, Pa.), Mark Trybulski (Huntingdon Valley, Pa.), Marquis Scholar Matt Young (Burke, Va.), and John Zazzu (Belle Mead, N.J.).

Louis Hayden, visiting part-time instructor of mechanical engineering, advised the team and was at the controls during the flights. For the year-long senior design course that serves as a capstone for the mechanical engineering major, he estimates that each student put in eight to ten hours per week.

“When you stop and think about it, it’s a high mountain to climb for these kids,” he says. “They’re given some requirements for radio-controlled aircraft, and none of them have ever designed an aircraft in their lives.”

Although Lafayette students have designed and built five airplanes, they only traveled to the contest this year and last. Leopard Aviation got off the ground and landed with approximately nine pounds, improving considerably over last year’s performance.

It was a particularly good showing considering that the plane had multiple crash landings. Blais says the team had intended to arrive in Florida with a second plane, but wasn’t able to complete it for the competition.

“It wasn’t that bad of a deal,” she says, because the team used parts from the second plane to fix damage from the crashes. “It definitely shows perseverance. … We had no choice but to get together and do it. We competed well.”

She says that the challenging Lafayette engineering curriculum prepared her to start from scratch and learn about airplane design.

“It requires time management skills,” she adds. “Communication is also important, especially as a team leader.”

“They’re a good team,” Hayden says. “Definitely a credit to Lafayette.”

Young found it interesting that Leopard Aviation was the only team in its class using a delta wing design.

“We were very confident in our design choice, so we were surprised and kind of excited when we showed up with the only delta wing airplane,” he says. “All of the other teams used some form of bi-plane design. In addition, although our plane was middle of the road as far as weight goes, it was one of the few that was still left intact after the competition even after four pretty hard crashes. We were happy that we had produced a plane that proved to be structurally sound.”

The team’s last flight was the highlight of the competition for Young. During the previous flight, the plane landed in a tree and a small branch went all the way through a wing. Against Hayden’s initial advice, the students made the necessary repairs while rushing against the time pressures of the competition.

“We really came together as a team to make the final repairs which allowed us to have a successful flight in the final round, moving us up from 13th to 8th place overall,” he says. “Also, coming in first place for our oral presentation was great and second place for overall design was really exciting. We put a lot of hard work into both the oral presentation and written report so it was nice to see that the hard work paid off.”

The team featured a great group of engineers who worked well together and understood their roles, according to Berteletti. The most difficult challenge occurred at the design phase, he says, when the students needed a crash course on flight — aerodynamics, propulsion, surface controls, and flight strength and stability.

“I had a wonderful experience working on this project,” he says. “From putting design ideas into our 3D modeling computer program to gluing balsa wood skins over the foam wing cores, this project was engaging and exciting. The design phase allowed us to explore ideas and actively learn what factors were favorable for a load-carrying plane. The hands-on construction gave us more practice with machine tools and material types.

“We were constantly making group decisions and working with one another. We had weekly meetings in which we discussed design decisions and set weekly and long-term project goals. Seeing this project develop from basic flight ideas to a flying airplane that finished in the top 10 in a national design competition is humbling and extremely satisfying.”

Hayden contributed “immensely” to the students’ knowledge and understanding of remote-control airplanes, notes Berteletti.

“He has decades of building and flying experience behind him and proved to be an exceptional asset to us based on his talent and skills,” he says. “His knowledge of flight dynamics and construction components allowed us to focus on making the lightest aircraft without sacrificing structure or stability. We would not have succeeded if it weren’t for Lou’s passion for airplanes and devotion to his students. His presence in our construction room and his availability to answer questions kept the project on track and without any major setbacks. There was never a time when Lou would not be willing to help us and teach us.”

Another important resource was the laboratory staff, which was always available to provide tools, supplies, and advice.

“They were interested in our project and continually checked in on our progress during construction,” says Berteletti. “Their interest kept us motivated and gave us a sense of achievement.”

Categorized in: Academic News