UP teamwork takes flight

By The Beacon | March 23, 2011 9:00pm

UP mechanical engineers place 13th in competition after months of work and frustration

By Will Lyons, Staff Writer -- lyons14@up.edu

Last Friday and Saturday, UP mechanical engineers got 13th place out of 35 teams in the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Aero Design West Competition in Fort Worth, Texas.

The "Co-ed Civilian Team," composed of seniors Anastasia Borok, Alec Devereaux, Madeline Alanko and Rian Throckmorton, concluded a year filled with struggle, creativity and triumph.

According to Borok, the annual SAE Aeronautics Competition brings together mechanical engineering students from across the country as well as international students to put their theories into practice by building remote controlled airplanes.

"We started designing the plane in late September and began building in October," Borok said. "We had more than a couple of 15-hour days throughout the building process."

Since this competition is also a senior capstone project, professor of mechanical engineering and faculty adviser Dakshima Murty knows how important it is for them to own their work.

"They spend an enormous amount of time working on the project," Murty said. "I'm only here to guide. It's truly the students own work."

The UP engineers designed and crafted every specification of the plane, except for the engine, which was streamlined for the competition in order to put all the teams on an even playing field.

"In the competition you had to use all natural, non-carbon fiber materials," Devereaux said. "For example, we used Balsa wood for the frame because it's so light."

Each member of the Co-ed Civilians built a part of the plane, and before winter break, they put all the pieces together.

"Interfacing everything was probably the most difficult part of the building process," Borok, who constructed the main body of the airplane called the fuselage, said.

This semester the teams put the finishing touches on their planes, composed papers for the written component of the competition and prepared their accompanying oral presentations before shipping the planes down to Fort Worth for the competition.

"Thanks to Dr. Murty's fluids lab last year we got second place on the written component of the competition because we got really good at writing reports," Borok said.

After giving their oral presentation on the Friday of the competition, the UP seniors were ready to see their planes take flight early Saturday morning. For four hours, the Co-ed Civilians were unsure if their plane would be able to complete a single lap around the airstrip.

"On our first flight the plane got caught by a gust of wind and crashed into a tree," Borok said. "The crash broke our propeller, tore the bottom of the fuselage and smashed part of the wing."

After the crash, all the UP engineers worked together to try and get the Co-ed Civilian's plane off the ground again.

"Both of the other UP teams dropped what they were doing to help us get the plane fixed," Devereaux said. "We couldn't have fixed the plane in enough time without them. It became a UP goal to get one plane off the ground."

In the fifth and final round of the competition, the Co-ed Civilians stepped up to the runway again.

"At this point, we were wondering if we were even going to bother fixing it if it crashed again," Borok said.

After a couple moments, the plane lifted off the ground and circumnavigated the airstrip before touching down for a clean landing, according to Borok.

"I almost cried," Borok said. "I was so happy when it got off the ground."

"I yelled, ‘We built an airplane!'" Devereaux said.

With a successful flight under their belt, the Co-ed Civilians slipped smoothly into 13th place.

"Just seeing what we made complete, its intended purpose was so gratifying," Borok said.

With the competition complete, the memories of hard work paying off will always stick with the seniors.

"This whole experience is probably the highlight of my time at UP," Devereaux said.