Aerocats Capstone Becoming A Legacy

By: Diana Riggs
Date: March 8, 2018

The 2018 Aerocats team will soon compete in an international aircraft design challenge that pushes the limits of their creativity.

A row of twelve members of the UC Aerocats Micro class team stand outside on a sunny day. Two students in the middle of the row are holding a remote controlled aircraft.

The Micro team design can fit into a shoe box-sized container when disassembled.

The University of Cincinnnati (UC) Aerocats will compete in the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Aero Design East competition in Lakeland, Florida, on March 9. Even with record enrollment of 46 members this year, the Aerocats have big shoes to fill.

SAE Aero Design is a real-world aerospace engineering challenge for college students. Over the past few years, the Bearcats teams earned first place in different categories at the competition. This year, UC has three teams, one in each of the three classes of competition-Regular, Advanced, and Micro.

Aerocats is more than just a club that flies remote-controlled planes. It is a capstone course for fifth-year aerospace engineering students that connects years of engineering concepts in one package. Starting in the fall, Aerocats work through months of brainstorming, reviewing project requirements, writing design reports and testing concepts with faculty and consultants. This year’s competition drew a large crop of dedicated fifth-year students who chose challenges that resonated with them.

Joe Rayho is the president of Aerocats and Advanced team project leader. His role is flight operations and payload specialist. His primary job was to determine when and how to drop the payload on the target. Rayho is interested in flight test engineering, so he was glad to provide oversight throughout the build to ensure the aircraft met the challenge restrictions and that flight data could be properly recorded. The advanced team challenge specified a certain engine and flight altitude, and required the aircraft to have full avionics. Rayho employed principles that could have numerous real world applications, like improving the accuracy of humanitarian aid drops.

A close-up shot of a red remote controlled aircraft flying through a clear blue sky

The Advanced team design has to reach an altitude of at least 100 feet.

Alexandra Thul is project lead of the Regular team, whose challenge was to carry as many passengers as possible without exceeding a weight limit and other constraints. Thul chose this challenge because it correlated with her ultimate career goal: to work in a commercial airlines to improve flight passenger experience. She first took interest in aerospace when she read about the positive psychological effect that curved overhead compartments on Boeing 777 planes had on passengers’ stress levels. The curves gave an illusion of more open space than the previously squared bins, which could reduce flight anxiety and claustrophobia. Being able to fine-tune every aspect of the aircraft design gave Thul fresh perspective on efficiency and safety.

Ben Gapinski lead the micro team in creating an aircraft that can be disassembled and fit in a container the size of a shoebox. His favorite part of the experience was the process of narrowing down from ambitious brainstorming to a feasible project. Lessons from his years of courses at UC all came together in the design report documents. “Once you had to put it all on a sheet of paper, it came together. Once you have to explain it, all the puzzle pieces start to fit,” Gapinski said.

Red remote controlled aircraft is flying through the air against a background of leafless trees

The Regular team design challenges students to carry as many passengers as possible.

Aerocats is primarily a capstone course for fifth year Aerospace Engineering students, but it is also an open student club. The team encourages underclassmen to participate if they have interest in aerospace because it can offer a helpful point of entry before enrolling in the senior capstone. Last year, they had a first year student work with them all year and attend the SAE competition.

Aerocats advisor Mark Fellows credits the Aerocats’ continued growth and success to the commitment, resiliency and creativity of his students. “At this point, I’m essentially a cheerleader,” Fellows joked. Fellows is a key member of the team, but he is not the only mentor. Former Aerocats like Dan Champion (team lead from two years ago) were tremendously helpful throughout the process. Current members benefit greatly from the guidance from previous years’ team members who return to UC for the Aerocats build. “The pride in the previous team members to come back and put their time into it was really cool,” said Rayho. 

Spread the pride and join the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) in wishing the Aerocats good luck in the upcoming competition!

For more information on the UC Aerocats, contact Mark Fellows. For updates on the competition, follow the UC Aerocats on Twitter!