One Tough Bird, And One Tough Team

Yesterday’s SAE Aero competition was full of ups and downs (pun intended), as more plane took off safely than landed intact.
Survival rates were trending down as design teams added more and more cargo weight with each flight, increasing the risk of structural failure. Wind shifts caught some pilots off guard, and a few planes even plummeted into the viewing area. When that happens you get a good idea of who is paying attention and what their reaction times are.
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S&T has a big, heavy aircraft. The day’s first major wind shift nearly turned the plane on its side and the pilot had to, uh, put the plane down ASAP to prevent spectator injury. And he did, right in the middle of the stunned Miners.
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Results? Broken ribs (on the plane, not the students), serious wing damage, and a wrecked nose gear and engine mount. No panic, just back to the workbench. Thanks to the wonders of 5-minute epoxy, team leader Zach Luker’s calm rachSUN_2979.jpgdemeanor, plenty of spare parts and lots of coordinated labor, the plane was able to slip one more flight in just before operations wrapped up for the day.
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This flight was much steadier, and the Miners topped it off with a successful* crash landing when a wing tip caught the ground and spun the aircraft to the ground.
The plane was tough enough to survive slamming to the ground sideways, and the critical data acquisition system indicated a dead stop. Why is that good? Teams get points for shortest combined take-off and landing distances, so a screeching halt is a good thing for points, but kinda rough on the nerves.
In the less dramatic design contest, the Beijing Institute of Technology took top honors in the advanced class. Had the Miners not incurred a nine-point penalty they’d be in second place, just a point or two behind. The Chinese are leading the flight scoring, but now that S&T’s bird is back to hauling freight, they should clawing up in the standings.
Stay tuned.
*Successful means “nothing fell off”.