Embry-Riddle students celebrate milestone at aircraft competition 

Aeronautics Astronautics Competition Team

by Lacey McLaughlin

After spending 4,000 hours building a dual-airplane unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to simulate a complex cargo mission, Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) received a historical ranking at the AIAA Design/Build/Fly (DBF) competition April 15-17, 2016.

AIAA Design Build Fly Team with their planes.
Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach team placed 11th out of 145 competing universities from around the world. The competition climaxed in an 80-team, three-day "flyoff" in Wichita, KS. Embry-Riddle’s Prescott chapter also placed highest in the team’s history at 12th place. Both ERAU teams were among the nine teams to successfully complete all of the missions.

This year, students were required to simulate a distributed manufacturing system that included designing and building two aircraft — a production aircraft and a cargo aircraft capable of carrying the production aircraft.

Aerospace Engineering senior and team lead Trevor Perrott said students designed their aircraft with inspiration from the Aero Spacelines "Super Guppy" cargo planes that can transport more than 50,000 pounds.

The team spent months testing designs for their manufacturing support aircraft “Big Bertha” and production aircraft “Gator Tot,” named after the 32-ounce bottle of Gatorade the plane was required to use for a payload during the competition.

Embry-Riddle Prescott AIAA Flight Team Prepares for competition.

“The idea was to simulate a real-world mission scenario where one plane carries another plane,” Perrott said, adding that the most challenging part was designing Gator Tot to be stable in Kansas wind but minimizing the fuselage size of Big Bertha simultaneously.

 “It was very hard to do,” he said. “You could not design one plane to be perfect for its mission. You had to compromise and look at the mission as a whole.”

“We had to design one plane with consideration to the other,” added Andy Artze, an Aerospace Engineering junior.

 The teams were scored on three flight missions and a bonus ground mission. The missions were additionally challenging due to 35 mph winds and storms. The missions included flying courses with the production plane inside the cargo plane, flying the cargo plane empty and flying the production aircraft with the payload. The teams were judged on design documentation, technical requirement satisfaction, and mission performance of both aircraft.

The success at the competition was especially meaningful for Perrott, who started the Daytona Beach DBF team three years ago. Over the past three years, the team has ascended from finishing 60th to 11th.

“We placed in the top eight percent after just three years. For us, that’s a huge accomplishment,” said Perrott.