Tech Plane Finishes 11th At National Competition

VAN NUYS, Calif. March 16, 2010 – Team Canary made a great showing in the SAE Aero-Design West competition in Van Nuys, Calif., finishing 11th in an international field.


Team Canary members taxi their plane to the runway during the SAE Aero competition.



Tech students prepare their plane for flight under the watchful eye of pilot Adam Gelbart.



Matt Swanson with Team Canary's plane.


  Team members Rebecca Vickers, Shawn Ward and graduate student Emrah Kulunk.

The Tech mechanical engineering team successfully flew their radio-controlled plane in seven out of eight rounds, although three flights were disqualified for exceeding the take-off restrictions.

In only their second year of competing, the Tech team improved dramatically on its 2009 showing, when they crashed early in the event.

Each of the 29 teams was assigned a designated pilot from the local radio-controlled plane club. Team Canary drew the same pilot this year as last year.

“He thought our plane was a great improvement,” team leader Tami Dixon said. “He expected it to not fly very well, but once he got it in the air, it flew well.”

The other team members are Ben Cooper, Anais Linan, Rebecca Vickers, Shawn Ward and Matt Swanson. Dixon is the lone May 2010 graduate on the team. She has accepted a job at the Puget Sound Naval Yard near Seattle. Cooper will graduate in December 2010 and the others finish in 2011.

After the design phase, which included oral and written presentations, Tech stood in sixth place. After the first flight, Team Canary stood in fourth place. Tech’s plane lost ground during the test flights, falling to 11th place overall. In the eighth and final round of flights, Team Canary’s plane crashed.

“It’s a heavy lift competition, so we were trying to push the limits,” Dixon said. “When you get behind, you have to test the limits and try to move up by adding extra weight.”

Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal won the competition with 214.993 points. Only four U.S. university teams finished ahead of New Mexico Tech – Michigan Tech (2nd), Kansas State (3rd), Kansas (9th) and Michigan (10th). Other top team universities were from Poland and Canada.

Team Canary is (from left) Matt Swanson, Shawn Ward, Anais Linan, Tami Dixon, Ben Cooper and Rebecca Vickers.




Tech finished just ahead of UC-Irvine (12th) and UC-Davis (13th). Other schools in the competition included North Carolina (15th), South Dakota School of Mines (17th), Ohio State (24th) and UTEP (28th). Other nations represented included India, Puerto Rico, Germany and Mexico.

Team Canary members thought their plane weighed 10 to 12 pounds, but once they got to the competition, they registered 18 pounds. (For an article previewing the competition, click here.)

“We had extra weight from reinforcements,” Dixon said. “We’re mechanical engineers and we like sturdy projects.”

Next year, the Tech engineers will focus on finding a balance between light weight and sturdiness, Dixon said. The Team Canary project is part of the Design Clinic class in mechanical engineering. The team spent the fall semester designing the plane, then spent more than 500 hours constructing and testing the plane this semester.

“It’s difficult and demanding,” Dixon said. “We put in a lot of time and effort. I do believe we should get an ‘A’.”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech