Not in Kansas anymore: Aeronautics Club competition cancelled due to tornadoes

Ian Larsen/Sun Star Reporter
May 1, 2012

Sam Bruerer, senior UAF Aeronautics Group vice president and the UAF student who controlled the flight, poses proudly with the airplane he helped design, build, and fly on April 24, 2012. Fernanda Chamorro/Sun Star

Despite multiple unsuccessful take offs, and crashing into a mound of ice and gravel, the UAF Aeronautics team was able to put their heads together for some ingenious engineering.

For unknown reasons the team’s RC plane was constantly veering to the right on takeoff attempts. The entire team attempted to secure the wheels, and bend the landing gear in order to get it to fly straight. Finally the team came up with an idea. By using the strong wind they were able to lift the plane into the air by hand.

“The landing gear is definitely meant for landing, not takeoff,” David Apperson, senior, said.

Even after a week of unfortunate events during the weekend of April 13-15, the plane flew exceptionally well and was retired for the semester after its final flight behind the museum.

The group’s chance to win the RC Design-Build-Fly competition crash-landed when, half-way through, the Wichita, Kan. competition was cancelled due to an abnormally strong tornado.

Kansas has 30-50 tornadoes on average per year, about 9 are classified as EF-3 according to NOAA. EF3 is the third highest classification on the Fujita Scale, the scale of destruction for tornadoes.

The tornado that struck Wichita that weekend reached winds of up to 165 MPH.

The tornado that cancelled the competition was classified as an EF-4.

Even though 68 teams from around the world came to compete, the event will not be rescheduled.

“We attempted one flight,” Emery said. “By the time we got the plane in the air the winds had reached 30 miles an hour gusting winds, we had a professional RC pilot fly it, but the wind was so bad he had to crash land it.”

The UAF Aeronautic RC plane group consisted of eight members: Apperson the Aeronautic club president, Coty Mayl, Sam Brewer, Jeremy Langton, Gerry Hovda, Corey Upton, Kyle Emery, and the club’s advisor Ed Bargar.

Apperson, Emery, Langton and Brewer built the RC plane for their senior project.

The plane the team designed and built the majority of the plane over the spring semester, Emery said.

“We got about $2,000 in funding total,” Emery said. “Most of the money went to the radio and the motors. We still had a big chunk of money left over, so we spent it on an autopilot GPS feature.”

From ground to finish, the plane cost about $1,300.

The plane unintentionally looks closely related to the Dash 8 Bombardier airplane, according to Emery.

The wingspan of the plane is six feet long, with the fuselage measuring five and a half feet. With the foam, epoxy, and wiring, the plane weighs about six pounds.

The plane’s battery lasts for about 10 minutes. The team estimates a top speed of 30 mph.

The team constructed most of the plane out of pink Styrofoam blocks, but they had an ace up their sleeve for the competition.

“We were one of two or three that used carbon fiber,” Emery said.

“Most teams don’t use it because it’s difficult to manufacture and get it smooth in the correct portions, and it’s expensive, but we had a lot around so we made use of it.”

Once takeoff was achieved, Corey Upton maneuvered the plane in the sky smoothly.

Upton’s piloting skills were no match for the 30MPH winds that day though. The plane nearly came to a standstill when in headwind.

“One thing I wish we spent more time on was the connections,” Apperson said. “We could have got rid of more weight if we had the time to go back and clean the connections.”

according to the team the wiring also negatively affected the GPS system and radio in the plane.

“It’s all about trial and error,” Emery said.

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