Team Canary Takes Flight In National Competition

SOCORRO, N.M. March 3, 2010 – A team of New Mexico Tech students takes flight this weekend. Team Canary will test the design and function of its airplane at a national competition in Van Nuys, Calif., this weekend, March 5 to 7.

Team Canary, of the Mechanical Engineering Department, will represent Tech at the annual SAE Airplane competition this weekend in Van Nuys, Calif. From left are Matt Swanson, Shawn Ward, Anais Linan, Tami Dixon, Ben Cooper and Rebecca Vickers.

The mechanical engineering students, helmed by team leader Tamara Dixon and fellow senior Ben Cooper, have spent countless hours since August 2009 designing, modeling, building and testing their aircraft. The team – including Shawn Ward, Anais Linan, Matt Swanson and Rebecca Vickers – has racked up 500 hours of labor just in 2010.

“This airplane is our lives,” Dixon said. “It’s very near and dear to our hearts.”

The team started the project with modeling in SolidWorks, stress analysis, design analysis and other aeronautical research. Once they completed their calculations related to stress, torque, center of gravity and other measures, they started making final decisions about design and materials. Beginning in January, Team Canary has been building their aircraft.

Tech entered the Society of Automotive Engineers’ college airplane design competition for the first time in 2009. While that team didn’t complete all its test flights, Team Canary 2009 exceeded expectations by simply entering the competition.

“We learned a lot, but nowhere near enough,” Dixon said. “Still, we’d like to finish in the top five … and come home with a plane.”

Team Canary assembles their plane on campus Tuesday. From left are Rebecca Vickers, Matt Swanson, Ben Cooper, Shawn Ward and graduate student Emrah Kulunk, who is advising the team. Photos by Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech



Each college team will be judged on a written presentation and an oral presentation. Then, the radio-controlled planes will take to the air in nine test flights. In a perfect world, Team Canary will successfully complete all test flights, but Dixon and Cooper said they fully expect to test to failure.

Team Canary is one of 15 teams of mechanical engineers in the Senior Design Clinic and Junior Design Clinic. So, the project is not just an extracurricular activity; they are getting grades as well.

“We are a little nervous, but we’re excited to go prove that we learned something from last year’s competition,” Dixon said. “We’re ready to go. Once we get their and get the plane in the air, think we’ll have a bigger sense of accomplishment.”

The competition requires each team to use the same power source – an OS .61 model airplane engine. Each plane must also have a 5” x 5” x 10” payload compartment. Also, each airplane’s dimensions – height, width and length added together – must not exceed 200 inches. Within those parameters, the student teams are free to employ any design and structural elements.

Team Canary is using flaperons (a combination between flaps and ailerons), a small-t cruciform tail design and a Selig 1223 airfoil. Their wingspan is 112” and they are using a 13x6 propeller.

The goal is to lift as much weight as possible, while taking off within 200 feet and safely landing within 400 feet. Dixon said they will slowly add payload weight as the test flights continue.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech