Inside Rensselaer
Student Design/Build/Fly ClubSoars to the Top
A student club from the School of Engineering recently served notice that when it comes to designing, building, and flying a remote-controlled airplane, Rensselaer aeronautical engineering students are among the best in the country.

At the national Design/Build/Fly competition near the end of the spring semester, the Rensselaer student club — formed just four years ago — finished ninth out of 69 teams, ahead of schools ranging from MIT to Georgia Institute of Technology. For seniors on this year’s team, the results marked a dramatic improvement from the humble beginnings of the first team in 2006-2007 when they built an airplane that couldn’t get off the ground during the national competition.
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“For the seniors who helped launch this club in 2006, it was satisfying to build and fly an airplane that— in one of the three missions we had to fly in the national competition — actually achieved the highest score by flying fastest with the maximum weight required in the contest,” said Michael Beyar, a sophomore from Monroe, N.Y., who served as club president.

“For me and many other club members, the true meaning of our effort was in seeing the complex formulas on the pages of our textbooks come alive in the engineering and construction of this airplane.” – Helen Mooney

The competition is sponsored annually by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Beginning with some brainstorming sessions last August, a core group of 15 students of the 35-member club began developing plans for the twin-engine, carbon-fiber and balsa airplane they eventually engineered and built on their own. The 6.5-foot wingspan airplane is powered by two electric motors fed by a specially designed network of batteries placed in strategic locations on the airplane. The engineering and construction took place during long and often overnight sessions in a fourth-floor lab in the Ricketts Building.

From the early test flights to the national competition in mid-April in Wichita, Kan., the small airplane was piloted remotely by senior Peter Allen from Newark, N.Y. Allen spent hours on a special simulator, mastering the complex remote control from which he directed all aspects of the airplane’s flight.

“From early on I knew the biggest challenge was to accomplish successful landings so that the aircraft remained intact as we worked toward the competition,” Allen said. “It was tough to be working the remote control at the same time you’d be looking at the airplane as you tried to land it.”

The club, known as the Rensselaer Redhawks, brought to Wichita an aircraft that could fly as fast as 62 miles per hour. They conducted many of their pre-competition test flights at the small South Albany airport, just a few miles from campus.

“For me and many other club members, the true meaning of our effort was in seeing the complex formulas on the pages of our textbooks come alive in the engineering and construction of this airplane,” said club member Helen Mooney, a senior from Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

The club was advised by Matthew Oehlschlaeger, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering.

“The strong performance by the team at this year’s competition is a testament to their ingenuity, hands-on engineering skills, hard work, and organization,” he said. “These students designed and built a beautiful and excellent-flying RC plane, and in the process learned a tremendous amount about technical engineering topics, as well as teamwork, organization, and leadership.”

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 11, June 18, 2010
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