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Student aeronautics team takes off

Michael Pochek, MU AIAA design team chairman, readies the team's model aircraft for a test flight. Photo by Jan Wiese-Fales

The College of Engineering’s newest design team is entering competition this month with a preliminary victory already under its belt.

Mizzou revived a dormant chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) last fall, revitalizing a group that had been inactive for about 10 years. The group’s members entered a design proposal in an AIAA aircraft propulsion and power system competition and won top honors, earning a berth in the performance leg of the annual model aircraft contest and a boost in the overall competition’s scoring.

“That pre-proposal is weighted in the final score,” said team adviser Craig Kluever, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor. “So right now, our team is in first place.”

The flying competition is scheduled for June 14–16 at the Wright–Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. Mizzou will compete with seven other teams from across the country, such as the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Florida, to become one of the top two teams that will present their designs at the 43rd AIAA Joint Propulsion Conference slated for July in Ohio.

Each plane—measuring about 60 inches from tip to tail and weighing roughly 15 pounds—must fly laps between 200 and 250 feet in the air for 10 minutes while detecting and sending a live video of targets on the ground. Judges also will measure the amount of power each team can deliver to a power consumption device during the flight..

MU will compete with a remote–controlled airplane powered by lithium–polymer batteries, which weigh less but nonetheless provide more power than standard nickel–cadmium batteries, said Michael Pochek, MU’s design team chairman and a mechanical engineering senior. The team adapted existing voltage controllers to ensure battery discharges don’t become imbalanced and short circuit the system—meeting a typical safety concern for batteries made with lithium, a volatile material, he said.

Mizzou’s plane can go between 30 and 40 mph, Pochek said. Pochek said the batteries should generate about 1,200 watts of electrical power.

The MU student team drew from several disciplines—including thermal management and electrical and mechanical engineering—to devise its airplane.

“The challenge is in integrating everything, bringing everything together and making sure it works,” Pochek said.

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