Georgia Tech AE Brings Home Gold: AIAA Design Build Fly Competition

Team of AE students in their lab with their remote control plane, Buzz Killington, that won third place in the 2015 AIAA Design Build Fly competition.


More gold, more lessons from AIAA Design Build Fly Competition

APRIL 2015 - Buzz Killington has a lot to be proud of.

The three-pound, balsa wood-and-shrink-wrap, remote-controlled plane -- built by students in the Georgia Tech AE Design Competition Class -- beat out 81 other school teams to take home third place in the 2015 AIAA Design Build Fly competition, held in Tuscon, AZ, April 10-12.

And the official written report on Buzz Killington's design concept took home the top honor, earning 98.5 out of 100 possible points.

But bragging rights are not the only thing that the AE students took home from their road trip to Tuscon. In each of Buzz's three competition flights, the students were able to observe, analyze, and critique months of engineering that went into building the plane.

The first test challenged Buzz to fly as far as possible in four minutes. Here, as always, weight was the enemy. While the balsa wood fuselage was feather-like, the engine was another matter.

"We were required to use a nickel hydride battery, which is really heavy and not very efficient," said team designer David Gitan. "But we were consistently able to get it up to 60 miles-per-hour in our tests, which was pretty good."

The second challenge required a 60-foot takeoff while carrying a five-pound block of wood that was placed in the fuselage.

Student working on the tail section of Buzz Killington
Not a model airplane kit. In addition to measuring and cutting all of the balsa wood components that made up Buzz Killington, the Georgia Tech AE students used a 3D printer (and some engineering know-how) to design and manufacture the servos and other fine-tuned components.

But it was the third challenge -- to carry and dispense as many whiffle balls as possible - that really got the team revved up. It was worth 50 percent of the total points.

To keep the weight down, the Buzz Killington designers decided to link the ball release mechanism to the flight controls. When the plane undertook certain maneuvers, the whiffle balls would automatically deploy.

The inherent risk with this weight-saving design was that the ball release mechanism could interfere with the flight controls, thereby jeopardizing the flight itself.

The team tested this component mercilessly before bringing Buzz Killington to the AIAA competition. After ironing out one small flaw, they found it worked consistently on all of its trial runs. It did the same in Tuscon.

"Normally we have obstacles to overcome at the competition that never showed up during flight testing, but every time our team was called we flew the mission flawlessly," said research engineer Carl Johnson, who mentored the class along with fellow RE David Moroniti and grad student Tom Neuman. "I’m really proud of the team and what we accomplished this year."