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.”