A team of engineering students from the University of Manitoba reached new heights last weekend, soaring above global rivals to capture first place in an aircraft design competition.
The event, called SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) Aero Design East, was held in Lakeland, Fla. It was the first title for the U of M, which placed third in a similar competition last year in Texas.
"We were hoping for it (to improve), but we weren’t expecting to do better than last year," said Amory Wood, head of the project’s wing department. "It’s still taking a while for it to sink in. It’s totally huge for us."
The essence of the competition is designing, building and flying a fixed-wing, radio-controlled aircraft that can (most notably) carry as much payload as possible while weighing as little as possible.
The U of M plane weighed about 5.5 kilograms, while carrying a 16.8-kg payload, which included 13.6 kg of cargo and 3.2 kg of passengers (tennis balls).
Team leader Jas Barmi, a fifth-year student, said SAE students volunteer their time to the competition, which is outside school credit and offers an avenue for learning that goes beyond the bounds of theory.
"Here, we get to make something tangible, which appeals to a lot of students," Barmi said.
The U of M has been sending teams to SAE Aero Design events since the late 1990s.
At the Florida event, the Winnipeg university was competing against 35 other schools — including some of the largest engineering programs in North America, as well as countries such as India, Brazil and Poland.
"Some schools ask us, ‘Where is Manitoba?’ (So) It definitely feels special to put Manitoba on the map for everybody else to see," Barmi said.
Although 17 students drove down in a convoy for the competition, upwards of 60 students were involved in designing, constructing and testing the plane.
Project manager Brooke Giesbrecht said, beginning at the start of the school year last September, the group worked mostly nights and weekends to construct a total of four planes: a prototype, a full-scale original, then two final planes, with modifications, to be used in competitions.
"It’s a pretty good note to end on," said Giesbrecht, a fifth-year student. "It’s nice to see all the hard work pay off."
Wood said the competition victory is especially rewarding for the U of M given Winnipeg’s aerospace roots — home to firms such as Boeing, Standard Aero and Magellan.
"It really proves we have the talent to offer," he said. "It’s pretty big to get our name out there among other universities."
The aircraft’s pilot, Don Hatch, has been assisting with the school’s teams for almost 30 years, and "is an incredible part of the team and has provided amazing support and guidance for the team every year," Wood said.
Randy Turner has spent much of his journalistic career on the road. A lot of roads. Dirt roads, snow-packed roads, U.S. interstates and foreign highways. In other words, he’s got a lot of kilometres on the odometer, if you know what we mean.
Updated on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 at 3:50 PM CDT: Adds photos.
8:00 PM: Fixes acronym
March 14, 2018 at 3:13 PM: Typo fixed.