|DBF Team BEVO Weathers the Storm at Competition|
|Written by Will Chaney, DBF Project Manager|
After several nearly sleepless nights spent preparing our airplane for this year’s Cessna/Raytheon Design-Build-Fly (DBF) competition, The University of Texas at Austin’s DBF team (Team BEVO) was finally packed up and on its way to Wichita, Kansas in the early morning hours of April 12. Although we felt well prepared for the competition, nothing could have prepared us for what we ended up facing by the end of the weekend.
The first day of our journey began like any other DBF day of travel – sleeping on the bus and watching movies. Once we arrived to Wichita, the team immediately began working hard to convert a single hotel room into a complete workshop, where we finished the final preparations needed to ready the airplane for the first day of competition.
Inspections were scheduled to begin the following Friday morning at 10 am, but when we arrived at the Cessna airfield at 9:30, we found they had already begun. With a total of sixty-eight teams present from across the world, Team BEVO was tenth in line for inspection, which gave us thirty minutes to finish prepping our plane. Unfortunately we failed our first tech inspection because our aluminum bars – which would be used to simulate passengers – failed to meet the required specifications. Within minutes, we headed back on the bus and into the industrial area of Wichita to search for new bars. An hour and a half later, we were back at the airfield waiting for the next round of inspections.
This set back caused us to miss the first rotation of flying, but we passed our second tech inspection and were finally up in the air for the second rotation. Mission one required us to complete as many course laps as possible in four minutes. The first flight could not have gone much better – with a light wind, we managed to fly five laps in the allotted time. We started our take-off roll with music playing across the McConnell AFB field, beginning with the song “Retreat” followed by “The Star Spangled Banner.” Feeling successful after our first flight with only thirty minutes left remaining in that day’s competition, we packed up and headed back to our hotel.
Saturday proved to be a challenging day for any team that flew. Winds in the morning were holding steady around 20 mph but we still managed to fly our second mission – to complete three laps with passenger payload. The airplane even endured a few seconds of a downpour and 25 mph winds, and still successfully completed all three laps in four minutes and forty-five seconds.
Once the winds began to reach 30 mph, the second day of competition flying was eventually canceled. With the extra free time, we toured a local glider club and had dinner with Penn State University’s team, all the while keeping a close eye on the weather. When we returned to the hotel, we relaxed, played cards and tried to enjoy our last night in Wichita – that is, until our evening of relaxation quickly turned into an evening of concern when the news broke that a large tornado was headed our way. Tornado sirens began blaring outside and we knew it must be serious. The team quickly gathered and headed to the interior maintenance room of the hotel to wait out the coming tornado. Soon the power went out and it all became silent outside. We knew the tornado was close. Luckily our hotel was spared a direct hit and we all remained safe for the remainder of the evening.
It wasn’t until Sunday morning that we saw some of the damage that the storm had caused, including a blown over Ferris wheel. Much later that we learned the tornado, which was over a quarter mile wide at the time, had touched down less than a quarter of a mile from our hotel!
That morning we also learned that the competition airfield had taken a direct hit from the storm and that remainder of the competition had been completely canceled. Many of the team members felt an immediate sense of emptiness when we realized we wouldn’t have the opportunity to fly mission three. Quickly we began making phone calls to locate a local airfield, and by 10 am Team BEVO, along with Penn State, MIT and West Virginia, assembled at a field west of town to attempt to fly the third and final mission which would require our airplane to release a plume of water at a designated altitude while flying at the fastest speed possible.
Unfortunately the winds were actually higher that morning than they had been the previous day when we attempted our third mission flight. Due to a lack of power needed to push through the wind, BEVO was unable to recover from a strong gust and ended up diving for the ground. Although the airplane that we had put so much hard work into was now wrecked, we left feeling like we had tried our best, in spite of the unfortunate circumstances we had encountered over the long weekend. That afternoon we loaded the bus with the remains of our airplane, and were finally on our way back to Austin. We felt happy and relieved to be alive, but left wondering how we had placed in the competition. Because of the inclement weather, we knew that the scoring process would take some additional time.
One week later we were informed that Team BEVO placed 11th among the 68 teams that participated. We had hoped for a higher score, but learned an important lesson from our experience – to plan for the unexpected as much as possible. If we had passed our first tech inspection we would have scored higher, but because of the unexpected weather conditions, we were unable to count our second mission toward our total score. It was a hard lesson to learn, but a valuable one that will stick with us in our future design process decisions. We are extremely grateful for the experience and lessons learned during the stormy competition and definitely plan to pass along our new knowledge on to next year’s DBF team.
This year’s 2012 DBF competition results can be viewed here.