Design Build Fly team photo 2018This spring, the UT Austin Design, Build, Fly (DBF) team placed 5th among 77 teams at the annual international Design/Build/Fly competition hosted in Wichita, Kansas, by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Cessna Aircraft Company/Raytheon Missile Systems.

This year’s team, made up of undergraduate aerospace engineering majors, dubbed themselves “Erik and the Jets” during the initial proposal process. The aircraft – affectionately named Bailey – served as a sentimental motivator for the team throughout the school year.

“Our chief engineer on last year’s team passed away in 2017,” DBF team manager and aerospace sophomore Erik Mills said. “He was a very active member in the aerospace community and really an inspiration to all of us, so we decided to honor him as our airplane’s namesake.”

Students began designing and building the aircraft last fall after the DBF rules were posted, and flight testing began in the spring.

At the competition in Kansas, teams were required to participate in a series of three flight missions and one ground mission. Mission 1 challenged teams to fly three laps around the field in three minutes with no payload. The ground mission asked teams roll dice to determine what piece of their airplane would need to be removed and reattached within a span of eight minutes, followed by flying another three laps. Mission 2 required teams to fly passengers (bouncy balls) in the passenger compartment, and in Mission 3, payload blocks were added in addition to the passenger load. All passengers and payloads would need to be carried internally and secured efficiently to assure safe flight.

“The one that ended up shooting us in the foot was Mission 3,” aerospace junior Shelden Dowden said. The team used a rubber band and a 3D printed seat to hold the bouncy ball in the plane, but it came loose before takeoff and cost them the mission.
Design Build Fly aircraft 2018Despite a hiccup in the team’s success, Erik and the Jets proved to be ‘weird and wonderful’ enough to impress competition judges. According to aerospace engineering junior Brennan Stewart, important innovations that stood out in competition were the airplane’s size and wing design. Weighing less than half a pound with a wingspan of only 12 inches, the aircraft was the second lightest in the entire competition.

“What made our airplane so competitive this year was early on when we decided we were going to design and build the smallest, lightest plane possible. That really set out design principal throughout the entire year,” Stewart said. “Another thing that set us apart was the choice to go with a parasail wing, which isn’t the most common design. Basically, instead of the wing being attached to the fuselage, it’s lofted above it so that there’s some clearance.”

Ultimately, seeing their airplane leave the ground at competition is what made the experience a success and worthwhile.

“The most exciting part of the year is just competition in general, because that’s what we are working toward,” Mills said. “You get to see the fruits of your effort flying through the air in front of other people and show off what you can do to the rest of the world because it is an international competition.”

View more photos of this year's DBF competition.

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