UC’s Aerospace Program Top Flight

By: Desiré Bennett

From research to design to implementation, the University of Cincinnati showcases its dominance in aerospace engineering.

The aerospace program at UC has consistently exhibited a strong history of leadership. Students during the 2013 spring semester lived up to that history by winning awards, thriving in competitions, and gaining regional attention.

The AFRL/DAGSI Ohio Student-Faculty Research Fellowship program, funded primarily through DAGSI by the Ohio Board of Regents, supports graduate science and engineering students and faculty who conduct research in areas targeted by the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

This year, out of the six DAGSI awards given in Aerospace, the University of Cincinnati’s aerospace department won four! Those awarded include Tyler Vick supported by prof. Kelly Cohen for their research on Guidance and Control of Air-Breathing Hypersonic Vehicles, Matthew Pinchak with prof. Ephraim Gutmark for their research on Characterization of Plasma Enhanced Ignition and Flame Propagation in Supersonic Flow Using Advanced Laser Diagnostics, Daniel Harriman and prof. Awatef Hamed for their research on Coupling CFD Analysis and Optimization Techniques for Scramjet Engine Design, and Nick Grannan with prof. Ephraim Gutmark for their research on The Inverse Brayton Cycle Based Power System.

Congratulations and continued success to this year’s DAGSI winners!

Owen Macmann with Prof. Slater, Director, OSGC.

Owen Macmann with Prof. Slater, Director, OSGC.

School of Aerospace Systems ACCEND Junior, Owen Macmann, was awarded “Best Research Poster” at the annual Symposium of the NASA/Ohio Space Grant Consortium (OSGC) on April 5, 2013.  Additionally, several senior and graduate students from the aerospace program also presented their research.

Macmann presented his research on expert systems design and says the concept presents an efficient and robust alternative to traditional methods of system development in dynamics and controls. “Using Sudoku as a proof of concept, I developed a program that can solve any type of Sudoku puzzle – no matter the shape or size or arrangement of the groups, etc.,” he explains.  “To do this I designed an expert system that treats the Sudoku puzzle not as an algorithm that must be calculated thoroughly, like all contemporary solvers, but as a three-dimensional probability space that can be sorted out with logic and diligence.”

Macmann’s approach is meant to simulate the approach of someone who had never played Sudoku before, but was given a pen and a paper with a Sudoku puzzle and the rules to Sudoku on it. “The results speak for themselves and stand out as an exceptional alternative to traditional solvers and without any of the overly complicated maths.”

Development of the algorithm took Macmann about four months.

Regular class team with competition airplane.

Regular class team with competition airplane.

The 2013 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Collegiate Design Series Aero Design Competition was held at the Thunderbirds Flying Field in Mustang Park in Ft. Worth, TX, from March 15-17.

The competition requires teams of students to design, build, and fly a remote controlled aircraft given specific objectives and design constraints, with an objective of optimally designing an aircraft to carry the largest possible payload weight.

Aerospace students participated in two class divisions: regular and micro, with differences lying within the design requirements. 


Regular class division team member Zach Nieberding describes some of the parameters. “The team chose to optimize the aircraft design according to three specific requirements: the dimension, weight, and take off distance limits,” he explains.  “To add a factor of safety and ensure success, the team reduced the takeoff distance limit to 190 feet and added the rate of climb requirement of 75 feet per minute.”

During the build stage.

During the build stage.

According to Nieberding, the flight requirements are to takeoff within 200 feet, complete a 360 degree circuit, and land within 400 feet while maintaining complete aircraft structural integrity. Nieberding’s team, "A Wing and a Prayer," faced significant challenges during the competition, making their placement of 25 out of 75 a marvelous feat.

Nieberding explains, “During the competition, winds were astounding. We had winds at speeds around 20mph, which is pretty substantial and can be felt by a full-sized car when driving down the road,” he said.

Because crosswinds inhibit an airplane's lift capabilities, the team’s aircraft was unable to take-off twice (out of six times) during the competition. In addition to being unable to take off with the decided weight, this and other factors hurt the team’s score. “On day two of three of the competition, our plane clipped a tree, destroying most of our plane,” he said. “The team had to rally together the rest of the day and night to have a second plane ready to fly on day three.”

Despite all of the setbacks, the team still triumphed. “Our design report and presentation were regarded as some of the best for the competition, and flight judges commented many times that our plane was one of the best they've ever seen built based on the design, attention to detail, and appearance that the airplane had.”

 The micro team, Skymaul (a play on the Delta® in-flight magazine Skymall), achieved second place overall in the competition.  The goal of this section of the competition was to design, build, and fly a micro R/C aircraft that could fly a racetrack circuit while carrying the maximum possible payload.

 The micro class was scored in three parts: a written design report, an oral design presentation, and the best flight score, with the flight score for the micro class rewarding minimum empty weight and maximum payload fraction.

Micro class team Skymaul with the final aircraft.

Micro class team Skymaul with the final aircraft.

Micro class group lead Nathan Phillips explains the micro class restrictions. “The aircraft has to be launched by hand or by an elastic launch system.  And the aircraft and launcher (if applicable) must be assembled to flight-ready conditions within three minutes by two people out of a carrying case of dimension 24”x18”x8”,” he explains. “The propulsion system must also be an electric motor – no limits were imposed on which motor except that it had to be electric.”

Phillips says that the biggest challenge for team Skymaul was constantly minimizing the empty weight of the aircraft. “Designing the aircraft using computer and mathematical models is one thing; however, building the aircraft this small is altogether different.  Because the dimensions are so small, any imperfection could disrupt the flight characteristics drastically,” he said. “Our flight score predictions showed that a decrease in empty weight was more beneficial than a higher increase payload weight.  Thus at each design iteration we looked for areas we could remove weight.”

The team overcame these challenges by using innovative design practices. “Instead of using ailerons, which would more than double the weight of the wing, we opted to implement a dihedral angle on the main wing to take advantage of roll-yaw coupling,” he explains. “In order to build this, a jig was made to ensure that the dihedral angle was approximately the same between each of the main wings during construction.” According to Phillips, practices like this were crucial in building a small yet sturdy aircraft capable of lifting over a pound.

Plane on catapult ready for flight.

Plane on catapult ready for flight.

Phillips believes that competitions like these are important because they develop the reputation of the university. “The SAE Aero Design East Competition has been known to include some of the best aerospace universities around the world,” he said.

According to Nieberding, the competition embodies a high level of excellence. “It allows the teams to demonstrate the high quality of education that the students receive in their aerospace collegiate career. It is also a very important engineering challenge that the students are able to take and use all the acquired knowledge and apply it to design, build and fly a remote-controlled airplane from scratch, resulting in a multitude of accomplishments along the way,” he said. “And it helps develop and instill confidence in our aerospace engineering students that they have the knowledge and skill capacity to work on real-life projects once college is over.”

It is competitions like these that continue to demonstrate the aerospace program is a proven leader.