Engineering team soars to victory in U.S. skies

by Stephen Forgacs
Staff writer

A radio-controlled aircraft built by a team of eight UBC engineering students
soared to victory over a field of American and Canadian competitors in an
aircraft design and heavy lift competition in Los Angeles recently.

The Society of Advanced Mobility Land Sea Air Space (SAE) Aerodesign
Competition requires that competitors attempt to design, build and fly a model
aircraft capable of lifting the maximum possible payload given certain design

UBC’s team won awards for best design and best overall, beating 30 competitors
from the western region as well as the top team from the East.

This is the fifth year a UBC team has taken part in the nine-year-old
competition, and the third time it has won.

Team leader Kevin Wilder, who graduated in May from Mechanical Engineering, is
a veteran team member and team pilot. He credits hours of hard work and team
effort for the victory.

“We use a practical design philosophy as opposed to an academic one. We tried
to identify good common sense areas to focus on, whereas other teams try a lot
of whiz-bang fancy stuff,” Wilder said. “We tried to get as much performance
out of every part as we could.”

The team did score some competition firsts though, particularly with the design
of a constant speed propeller system similar in principle to that used in the
Dash 8 aircraft. Although the team did not use the constant speed propeller in
competition–they couldn’t get the bearings required–they scored top marks for
their technical report and design. Other design features included low rolling
resistance wheels, a larger wing and lightweight components.

The competition is divided into two categories: design and flight. The design
portion comprises a written report on the rationale of the project, engineering
drawings of the aircraft and an oral presentation. The flight portion is
concerned with the amount of payload lifted by the plane and the accuracy of
the performance prediction.

UBC’s plane lifted 12 kilograms, almost half a kilogram more than predicted.
One other competitor lifted slightly more, while the plane that lifted the most
weight took off with 13 kilograms.

“We could have lifted more,” said Wilder, adding that smoother runway
conditions at the competition than at the Pitt Meadows airport where the test
flights were carried out meant the team never needed to push the airplane to
get it off the ground with the predicted payload. Flying with considerably more
weight than the predicted amount would have cost the team points.

Prior to the competition, the team flew between 20 and 40 test flights using a
prototype plane. The competition plane was tested only twice before the

“The prototype flew so well we knew the competition plane would fly without
problems,” Wilder said.

The team was very well prepared for the competition following the test flights
and after putting between 40 and 70 hours a week into the design and
construction of the plane between September 1995 and the competition.

“We were very well organized this year,” said team member Chris Elyea, a
graduate student in Metals and Materials Engineering. “Kevin’s four years of
experience at the competition helped us, as did having an incredibly dedicated

Team members other than Wilder and Elyea include: Mike Baker, Geoff Cattrall,
Kristen Durham, Terence Fan, Elaine Oum and Matt Rektor, all engineering

Mechanical Engineering Assoc. Prof. Sheldon Green served as supervisor.
Mechanical Engineering Instructor Dean Leonard worked closely with the team and
has been involved with UBC’s efforts since it first entered a team in the