Research & Innovation

Stevens Team Recognized at Airplane Design Competition

A senior design team made up of Mechanical Engineering majors Syeda Zehra, Matthew Riley, Michaelo Velarde, and Phillmon McFadden has been honored with the Best Oral Presentation Prize, as well as 5th place overall, in the Advanced Class of the 2013 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Aero Design West Competition for their Heavy Lift Cargo Plane. The project advisor was Dr. Siva Thangam. Mechanical Engineering Laboratory Supervisor Mr. Milan Simonovic assisted with the construction of the plane and Graduate Student Elias Aljallis accompanied and assisted the team during the competition.

The three-day competition was held in Van Nuys, California from April 12-14. The 68 teams in contention were divided into three classes—Micro, Advanced and Regular. The objective of the Advanced Class in which the Stevens team participated was to design the most efficient plane that met several design requirements while being capable of accurately dropping a three pound (3 lb) humanitarian aid package from a minimum of 100ft off the ground. The competition consisted of an oral presentation during which each team presented a technical briefing on their concept, followed by the flight portion. In addition to distance from the drop target, the teams earned points for the ability to carry the heaviest payload with the lightest aircraft possible. High performance and operational availability were also important judging criteria through the entirety of the competition.

The Stevens senior design team, dubbed “Team Red Bird” for the distinctive color of its entry, aimed to design a plane that was functional and easy to build.  They worked with balsa and plywood to reduce the overall weight of the aircraft (the completed plane weighed only 8lbs), and used a single top mounted wing that was 78inches long. The fuselage was 68inches with the required .46 cubic inch engine. The team also installed a first-person point-of-view camera and full telemetry system that was streamed to a ground station.

To prepare for competition, the team performed three test flights at a local model plane airfield to ensure that all parts of the airplane were functioning properly. According to Team Captain Syeda Zehra, “Our flight tester was a plane hobbyist who was impressed with our success on the very first test run. We had an extremely short take-off run, a successful flight and a near-perfect landing.” The group also presented the design to its advising panel multiple times throughout the year, giving them plenty of practice and a high level of comfort presenting to the judges during the competition.

Syeda adds, “Everyone in the group had a good understanding of the airplane and all the calculations associated with the design. This allowed each of us to be confident in our presentation and our answers to any questions.” 

On the day of the competition, teams were required to lift a payload of 22 lbs in addition to accurately dropping the three-pound weight near a ground target. “The best part of the senior design experience was seeing our plane fly in competition carrying a total weight of 23.5lbs and releasing three pounds of expendable cargo. It proved that all our hard work on calculations and analysis was performed correctly,” says Matthew Riley.

Syeda (3rd from right) at ASME

After the group's success at the SAE competition, Syeda took the project website to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers District A Student Professional Development Conference at New York Institute of Technology, where she was awarded first prize in the Old Guard Technical Webpage Competition.

SAE International is a global association of more than 128,000 engineers and related technical experts in the aerospace, automotive and commercial-vehicle industries. SAE International's core competencies are life-long learning and voluntary consensus standards development.

The team exhibited their prototype at the Stevens Innovation Expo on April 24th alongside hundreds of other innovative technologies, products, services and businesses. To see photos of the Expo, be sure to check the Facebook album.