3rd in the World: FIU’s Aerospace Engineering Club at SAE Design East

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By Stephanie Villavicencio

While most students were having fun in the spring break sun, FIU’s Aerospace Engineering Club was challenging the world. A part of the College of Engineering and Computing, the club competed at the SAE Aero Design East Competition and brought home third place in the world for their original airplane design.

Fourteen members of the Aerospace Engineering Club, including lead engineer Daniella Bernal and lead designer Jackson Fadely, attended the three-day conference in Fort Worth, Texas, March 11th-13th, where they presented their aircraft to a panel of judges.

The SAE judges evaluated the airplane designs submitted by 73 international teams. Not only was each team required to design and build an airplane from the ground up, but they also needed to justify each of their engineering decisions in a final technical report.

Throughout the fall, the team worked hard developing their design under the mentorship of Dr. Redding of the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, meeting frequently to discuss ideas and sketches.

By the end of the semester, a design had been submitted to and approved by SAE Aero Design East and manufacturing had begun.

Through winter break and the spring semester it was non-stop plane building for the Club, made possible by several key sponsors, including HEICO, Chevron, Smile 4 Life Dental, SOLIDWORKS, Lockheed Martin, and of course FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing and the Honors College, of which both Daniella and Jackson are members. Tthe Honors College and its 3D printer were crucial elements in making the club’s plane go from whiteboard design to airfield runway.

Three to four times a week the team would meet to refine their design and its realization.  Not surprisingly, all their hard work–more than 1000 total hours of it–paid off in Texas.

Day one of the competition entailed a presentation of the airplane to a panel of engineers who inspected the design and assessed the reasoning behind each engineering choice.

On the next day, the team demonstrated the plane’s flying capabilities, measured by its carrying capacity at 1000 watts of power while still taking off within 200 feet.

Day three of the competition, perhaps the most exciting for the club, was dedicated to more demonstrations and the reveal of the final rankings.

Having carried 28.75 lbs. and successfully taken off within the required parameters, FIU’s plane ranked 2nd in the United States and 3rd in the world.

After receiving the good news, Fadely said on behalf of the Club, “We’re super happy about placing in the competition this year. This was only our second year competing, yet we managed to be competitive and beat teams that have been participating for many years. It’s been a long year preparing for the competition and it’s awesome that all our hard work and effort paid off.”