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Design-Build-Fly = Research-Solve-Learn

Tuesday, July 25, 2017
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“We learned 100 ways not to build an airplane,” said one team member. Together, they found the right way, meeting tricky design challenges through sustained teamwork.

Their aircraft folds into a narrow tube, but designing, building and testing it carries an expansive payload of skills honed and lessons learned. It’s all documented in the design report that earned high marks for the Rose-Hulman Design-Build-Fly Team.

The report scored sixth among those of 95 teams gathered in the Arizona heat April 20-23 for the annual flyoff sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The team, guided by advisor Calvin Lui (associate professor of mechanical engineering), overcame numerous challenges. “In preparing for the competition, we learned 100 ways not to build an airplane,” said senior James Broughton. “It was important to keep a positive mindset despite many, many failures.”

Senior Mary La Dine agrees. “Perseverance is key. Having a flight test that ends with a crash is only a failure if you don’t learn from the crash.” This year’s DBF objective called for a plane that would fit into a cylindrical container, with wings or other features that folded or stowed in transit and locked into place for flight. Scoring reflected compromises among weight, speed, range, endurance and payload capacity.

“We had to think on the fly,” said Senior Patrick Atkinson. As an example, he noted that in testing, the plane resisted flying level without compensating through the controls. The answer? “We went back to basic engineering principles and simply had to shift the center of gravity of the plane forward by an inch.”

The R-H DBF team finished quite respectably—41st overall out of 95 teams. Lui, who now will hand over the advisor role to Assistant Professor Matthew Riley after 11 years, calls the sixth-place showing for the design report “an exceptional achievement.”

As with Rose-Hulman teams in all types of competition, the real payoff is in collaborating to find real-life solutions to technical challenges. As La Dine puts it, “There is no ‘Intro to RC Aircraft’ class at Rose. This means that much of what we do we teach ourselves, which is a useful skill to have. The teamwork and collaboration DBF experienced this year is something I can only hope to have throughout my career.”