UC AeroCats take First Place at International Competition

By: Liz Daubenmire

The AeroCats from the UC College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) competed in the SAE Aero Design Competition and took home several honors including two first place awards. 

The UC AeroCats group comprised of mostly Aerospace Engineering seniors finished first in the SAE Aero Design Competition. Below is a breakdown of their score:

1st place overall for the Regular Class competition (out of 37 teams)

1st place for the Regular Class Oral Presentation

2nd place in Max Payload (our highest was 29 pounds, the winner carried 30 pounds)

4th place for the Regular Class Design Report

The team’s win is a huge success but not uncommon for the group.  According to CEAS Aerospace Professor Mark Fellows, the group has “historically performed well in the SAE Aero Design Competition, with teams finishing in the top three in eight of the past ten years.”

The team’s pilot, Santiago Panzardi, is a huge contributor to the AeroCats accomplishments and has been flying the UC planes for several years. Fellows says Panzardi has “graciously piloted the planes for the love of flying remote controlled airplanes and working with students.”  Panzardi has even taken time off from work to go to the competition every year.  Another team member, T.J. Schwieterman, adds “Panzardi is one of the reasons that we won.  He is one of the best pilots in the country.”

More about the Competition:

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) sponsors the Collegiate Design Series (CDS) that encourages engineering students from all over the world to participate in a variety of engineering design competitions involving snowmobiles, cars, or airplanes.  Each competition challenges the student teams to design, build, and compete their vehicle in an international showcase during the Spring Semester. 

For the SAE Aero Design Competition the student teams are graded for three separate activities: the flight competition, the design report, and the oral presentation.  This year’s SAE design requirements tasked the student teams to design an airplane to carry as much payload as possible while constraining the airplane’s size to the sum of its length, width, and height to be less than 175 inches, its takeoff distance to be less than 200 feet, and to use an electric motor that produces no more than 1000 watts of power.

The AeroCats team re-caps the weekend experience at the SAE Competition:

“Saturday’s first flight had a payload of 30.3 pounds but we lost the nose wheel during the takeoff, so the flight didn’t count for any points.  The team was disappointed since that weight was a couple of pounds over last year’s winning payload and it would have given us a great jump on the rest of the competition.  Since we had done so well in the Oral Presentation and the Design Report we were in fifth place without any flight points.

Saturday’s second flight had a payload of 28.75 pounds and suddenly we were back in contention since several of the airplanes crashed due to some gusting crosswinds.  After Saturday’s two flights we were in second place!

Sunday morning was very foggy so the competition started about a half an hour late.  We got in the flight queue first and carried 29 pounds around the circuit on a very exciting third flight in the calm wind.  This flight put us squarely in first place with some good margin over our competitors.

The fourth and final round of the competition flight started around noon.  Again we got in line first to set the precedent early.  This flight carried 29 pounds again and it was a very solid flight with just a hint of wind.  No team could catch up with us after that flight.”

Mark Fellows wraps up his summary of the competition by acknowledging the team’s preparedness.

“The student team responded very well to these challenges and they were able to fly a prototype aircraft and their competition aircraft a total of 21 times before heading to the competition.  They were definitely the most prepared team at the competition.”

Preparation and hard work in the classroom equally enabled the team to rise to the top at the SAE Competition. Member of AeroCats, Drew Mayeux says “A competition like this is where we learn the most about aerospace engineering principles.  It helps us to focus and apply what we’ve learned in the classroom to a practical design problem.”

Regardless of the final score, competitions can always offer benefits to students who engage and apply their knowledge in a practical way.  Teammate Bo Landess reiterates Mayeux’s comments and says, "This competition serves as a reminder that engineering is all about compromise. The various subgroups of our design team had to give and take on different aspects of the aircraft in order to arrive at a practical, buildable aircraft that has the best overall performance. These lessons will be easy to apply in our engineering jobs as we take on projects where compromise will be essential."

Congratulations to the 2015 AeroCats team for their many achievements at the SAE Competition.  Continuing the pride of CEAS, AeroCats prove once again that WE ENGINEER BETTER™