Plenty Of Great Crashes Last Weekend, But……….

The prize for the sturdiest plane and most determined pilot goes to IPN-ESEMAN UP of Ticoman, Mexico.
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The plane plowed through an orange safety cone while airborne, rose into the sky as if nothing happened, slammed to the dirt and clawed its way into the sky again, before executing a final crash-landing farther down the back stretch. And still seemed to be substantially intact and ready for another go………..

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Other aircraft were less fortunate.

No Team Had Ever Succeeded. Until Today.

This event is not about flying radio-controlled aircraft; plenty of hobbyists do that every weekend. It’s about pulling together complex systems to solve a daunting technical problem spec’d out by SAE International.

Fly a lightweight plane. Carry a payload 40% heavier than the aircraft itself. Measure altitude. Gather data. Transmit live video to ground controllers. Drop simulated food and medical supplies from a minimum height of 100 ft to areas hit by natural disaster, and return to base intact.

This challenge was laid out two years ago and no team succeeded in every task. Many flew, some couldn’t handle high winds. Others, including our friends at St Louis University, argued with trees and lost. Just today the Billikens’ plane found the biggest tree in the area, and left it decorated like a Christmas tree, festooned with shiny monocote and metal shards. Up pretty high, too……..

A tiny handful dropped their payload but missed the drop zone. Last year one bird dropped its humanitarian payload but failed post-flight certification. Not today.
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Plane B, S&T’s back-up bird, flew just two drop-zone missions. The first released the aid package but missed the designated disaster site by about 15 feet. Sortie #2, launched just as field operations were about to end for the day, was quite a different story. Pilot Kelly O’Connor brought #217 closer to the main runway and from just three feet higher than the required 100’ altitude, plunked the bag 22 feet, 11 inches from perfection, well within the 50’ drop radius.

John Schaeffer says “tonight we’ll change our strategy. Our drop score moved us from 8th place to 4th, and want to boost our score multiplier even higher by moving the center of gravity back. That will relieve up to a pound of weight on the wing, help with takeoff performance and allow us to carry more static payload.”

One Side Of The Room, Nearly 100 Years Of Professional Aeronautical Experience……….

On the other? Four undergrad students and the 9½ lb aircraft they designed, financed, built and tested in less than a year.

The task? Convince four Lockheed-Martin engineers that plane meets the technical specs set forth by SAE Aero officials, can carry out complex aerial missions, displays outside-the-box thinking, and has the same systematic thought process behind it as the company’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

AAVG14SUN_6918And they have just 10 minutes in which to do so. Chief engineer Emily Dierkes did it in 8 minutes, 30 seconds. She handled the presentation chores quite well, leaving judges only with minor questions about tail-boom construction, payload installation and propeller pitch.

Early today design teams and their projects from around the world flooded a convention hall for nerve-racking rounds of technical inspections. Each aircraft was picked, prodded, measured, looked at, and tested in ways that would embarrass a TSA agent at Laguardia Airport. S&T’s Plan/Plane B, now emblazoned with tail #217, was given the fine-toothed-comb treatment for nearly an hour. Event officials determined that #217 exceeded allowable length until one of the Miners told them the proper way to use a tape measure. Seemingly endless hours of examining aircraft while “discussing” micro details can make even the best of us overlook something.

The real fun begins tomorrow when flight operations commence but this is a design event first, a flying event second. Excellent design and presentation scores can outweigh a mediocre flight tally. All the interest in which team has the prettiest plane/flight/crash aside, flight ops simply prove the design works.

And that’s why Missouri S&T is here.

Don’t Leave Home Without Batman/A Screw Loose Can Ruin Your Whole Day

Aside from a sticky payload hatch door, the Advanced Aero Vehicle Team’s new airplane proved a very stable platform last week. Saturday’s follow-up flight was to test the mid-flight payload drop and conditions couldn’t have been better.

BatmanSUN_6530blogProof of concept comes from repeatability; if, under the same conditions repeated tests give you identical results you have a winning design. Change one of the variables and anything can happen.

Saturday’s critical change? They didn’t include Batman (left), the grumpy field marshal who oversaw last week’s successful flight. Had the little fella been there his nose might have caught something amiss, but we’ll never know.

The green beauty took off without a hitch and flew magnificently, but just before turning toward the required payload drop things turned bad. Real bad. The plane suddenly plunged to the ground despite pilot Kelly OConnor’s frantic efforts to save it.

Very little remained of the craft once it power-dove to the ground. Balsa, carbon fiber and monocote shreds everywhere. And only six days before their tech inspection by Ft. Worth-based Lockheed experts.

Post-crash analysis suggests a bolt holding a servo mechanism came loose, robbing the pilot of any control whatsoever. Lesson learned? Double and triple check everything.

How to salvage a year’s efforts just a week before competition? Sweep up the mess, recycle the expensive parts, and unpack Plan B, an identical plane. The Flying Miners learned years ago that it’s a whole lot easier to build two planes at the same time than rebuild one overnight in the Budget Motel.

On the other hand, when you are down to one aircraft take plenty of repair parts. There’s a reason they award the “Best Crash” trophy at this event.

Stay tuned. 72 hours from now we’ll start posting other teams’ efforts to keep from crashing. Some efforts will be successful, some/many less so, at the Society or Automotive Engineers Aero Design Competition southwest of Ft Worth. About 30 miles north NASCAR will be hosting its own crash-a-thon, but we doubt any of those vehicles will end up in a lake. Could happen with the airplanes.

Breaking In A New Airfield

Solar Car wasn’t the only Missouri S&T design team to sneak in under the clouds that preceded yesterday’s arctic blast. Hours after the huge ST Pat’s parade, defending SAE Aero West champion Advanced Aero Vehicle Group took their 2014 design to the newly-established Vichy Modeler’s Club aerodrome, just down the hill from Rolla National Airport. In years past the R/C club used an abandoned runway at the historic WWII training field, now home to a growing industrial park. This was the Miners’ first use of the new flight facility, and just as when the Design Center moved to the new Kummer Student Design Center there were plenty of new safety guidelines to observe.

AAVGDogSUN_64161 Spinning rotors and propellers can quickly tear up tissue so, just as in industry, extreme caution is the norm. The airplane builders were happy to find a neatly-mowed field with parking just steps away, perfect for efficient operations. They didn’t expect a grouchy “field marshal/meteorologist” who watched both flight line and tarmac as if he owned the place; adamant that things were to go smoothly. He left his mark everywhere, kept his nose to the ground during pre-flight, and sniffed wind direction and speed before barking “Launch Aircraft!”
weathercheckSUN_6529xDogtakeoffSUN_6566The dead winter grass was a little worrisome since the plane is designed with asphalt in mind. Any design or build problems would have to be corrected in the two weeks remaining before the annual design/fly competition. Most first-flight tests have revealed design, manufacturing or control issues that kept the planes from flying as predicted, but the plane flew beautifully! Just one minor glitch when testing the package-drop mechanism, but that is an easy fix.
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Two flights, two laps each, and very stable; good results after a year of hard work. Back to the shop to add the S&T logo and a few sponsor logos, and it’s on to Ft. Worth, Texas!

Rockets and Marshmallows and Glass! Oh, My!

The St. Louis Science Center is the perfect antidote for kids with cabin fever, and what better time to visit than Engineers’ Week?

S&T’s design teams, along with amazing students from Material Advantage outreach crew, celebrated by setting up hands-on technical displays that kids are encouraged to touch, play, launch, break and even eat.

Advanced Aero Vehicle Group turned paper and tape into the stuff of dreams by helping young children build and name their own paper rockets. A small compressor and PVC tubing served as the perfect platform to simultaneously send four semi-guided paper projectiles near the roof of the Science Center’s four story building. Most of the missiles were taken home as prized trophies; others remain on ceiling beams, the top of the elevator, or firmly lodged in other groups’ displays.

MADSC_9077 The student traveling roadshow known as Material Advantage, AKA material manipulators, brought playtime down to earth by handing out nitrogen-frozen marshmallows. The little gems look and taste the same but go “crunch!” when eaten and cause steamy vapor to escape from your nose. Just the kind of thing to keep kids wondering “How?” “Why?”

Engineering can be a lot of fun; intriguing stuff that ignites the spark that guides a youngster’s entire life. A passion that may have started with steam wafting from a child’s nose.

Future U.S. Space Programs Depend On New Talent And Inspiration.

American space exploration will return to the heavens in a big way, and soon. That’s the goal of four dedicated design teams on the S&T campus.

S&T’s Mars Rover Design Team (MRDT), a group with just one competition cycle under their belts, organized the first annual campus Space Week exhibits designed to get the next generation of Mercury/Apollo/Space Shuttle engineers excited about space exploration.

MRDTDSC_5581Mirroring international space cooperation students from Miners in Space, the S&T Satellite Team, and the Advanced Aero Vehicle Group combined forces to host community events covering topics from “Be an Engineer for a Day,” “Meet the Planets”, “Aerospace Adventures,” to building paper rockets. An evening speaker series brought in experts in space-related fields, including S&T alum and four-time Shuttle Astronaut Tom Akers, in whose honor the MRDT’s first Mars-style rover is named.

The mid-day displays were a huge hit with kids and adults alike. Student groups from several local schools filled the Havener Center atrium with their planet posters and got to play with and control robots of all sizes.
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Tom Akers wrapped up the week with a tour of the Student Design and Experiential Learning Center where he shared the nitty-gritty aspects of life in space as he knew it with many of the MRDT members. Tom was also gracious enough to autograph “Akers,” the team’s inaugural rover.

It’s Official! SAE Aero Conclave Names S&T AAVG The WINNER!

Mea Culpa for the papal analogy but it still rings true.

AAVGDSC_6636.jpgNot in modern times has a pope resigned, and not in ANY time has an SAE Aero team won the flying event without successfully, uh, flying.

The dedicated SAE folks put their heads together and did what was best for the spirit of the competition. S&T’s great presentation and strong design had them in the points lead going into the flying (crashing?) finals, so when the smoke (get it, smoke?) cleared, S&T was named the advanced-class winner and will receive a $1,000 check.

Winds were so tough that micro-class planes looked like mosquitoes flying into a leaf blower, and a few simply vaporized upon launch. Regular-class planes did somewhat better but really struggled to land in one piece, if they got off the ground at all.

Advanced aircraft generally elected not to challenge the wind so all of the surviving teams held off until Sunday’s calmer breezes.

That strategy paid off for S&T. They twisted a few more RPMs from a worn-out motor to join most other teams in getting off the ground, but none of them completed the flight tasks, leaving all the top teams tied for first. Or last. Either way, no one had a flight advantage, so S&T’s points lead held up, good for that $1,000 check.
Note: The unfortunate aircraft to the right was not S&T’s, just an all-too-common example of Saturday’s carnage.

No White Smoke From Ft. Worth

OK, the strategy worked.

Not because of anything in particular that the Miners did, mostly just high winds and bad luck for the other advanced class (complex aircraft) teams.

Here’s a summation of a report that team leader Jason Brown called in late last night during the long drive back from Ft. Worth:

“We coaxed a little more performance from our original engine, but not quite enough. The plane did take off today and circled twice over the prescribed drop zone, but didn’t have enough power to clear the trees the second time.” Not good.

Every other team either had difficulty getting airborne, dropping the “humanitarian package,” or simply crashed somewhere in the vicinity. No undamaged aircraft, no successful flights, so no flight points. By any of the more sophisticated planes.

So, according to the scoring matrix Missouri S&T held on to the top spot and was ready to accept the trophy. Trouble was (and we get this second-hand), the judges had never had a competition where no team earned flight points, so they held a conclave with the Society of Automotive Engineers and said (paraphrasing here) “uh, we’ll get back to you on a week or so.”

The S&T plane? Largely recovered, but we understand there’s a chunk of Miner wing stuck high in a tree at Thunderbird Field.

Best crash award? Not sure, but there were several outstanding contenders.

Best activity related to a crash? Students sprinting full-bore down the runway in pursuit of colorful windblown shreds of balsa, mono-cote and carbon-fiber.

SAE Aero Update; Hanging On To 1st Place

AAVGDSC_6341.jpgThree updates:

The winds have died down considerably.

S&T cut back on their payload weight and managed to fly with an under-powered engine.

They flew well but the payload drop failed due to electronic problems.

No other advanced-class plane had a successful flight. Yet. Some missed the designated drop zone and one managed to clip* a tree.

There’s one more flight round on tap today. Brazil is always a top contender, and a new plane from India is expected to fly this afternoon.

*One doesn’t simply “clip” a tree. That’s just a PC way of saying they tore the plane’s, uh, TAIL off.