Dedicated to the Promotion of Electric Propulsion in all types of Aeromodeling

SEFSD Supports New UCSD Team

By Steve Manganelli

Sharp eyed readers will recall my articles about Design-Build-Fly (DBF), an undergraduate Aerospace Engineering student competition where myself and Steve Neu have supported the efforts of both University of California (UCSD) and San Diego State University (SDSU) over the last 25 years. All test flights are performed at our Mission Bay Park Field. More recently, a new UCSD group approached SEFSD, at first just to use the field which morphed into airframe structural analysis and test flying by Steve Neu as well!

The new (to us) UCSD group led by students Ben Garofalo and Brandon Vinh are preparing for an International competition called Student Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUAS)  to be held in June at a small airport in Maryland. The competition is hosted by Robonation and has 71 entrants from around the world from both Universities and High Schools! Unlike DBF where the focus is on payload carrying and has constraints about wing size and takeoff performance, the AUVSI competition rules though rather exhaustive do not place any restrictions on the air vehicle : it can be a quad copter, helicopter or fixed wing aircraft. The basic objective is to fly 5 circuits of a 3 mile GPS defined course and deploy an 8 oz water bottle payload on a target on each circuit. Not so hard you say, fly the plane with FPV goggles and a spotter to guide the plane near the waypoints until the target comes into view and then drop : uhh…no. Did I forgot to mention “autonomously” ? After pilot guided takeoff, the plane has to execute the entire mission autonomously and the precise location of both the drop targets and the flight waypoints are not provided until just before the competition. The drop has to initiated from at least 75 feet above the ground/target and the water bottles have to survive the landing, no splats! This is so “easy” we should do this as one of our monthly fun-flys…NOT! In fact Mr. Garofalo, a veteran of the 2023 Competition told me that out of 72 schools competing, only one school put one water bottle on target during the entire competition : that’s one difficult contest.

The UCSD team got an early start, bringing a prototype of the 2024 airplane to SEFSD field for it’s first flight on January 28th. An attempt previous to that was returned to the drawing board for wing structural modifications. The unnamed plane seemed quite large for a 2.5 lb payload but not when you consider it big enough to carry batteries for the entire 15 mile mission! The plane flew well making one maiden flight and one autopilot calibration flight.  The electronics involved are probably more complex than the airframe. The main purpose of the new model was to teach fabrication techniques and serve as a recruiting tool. As can be seen by the group photo, recruiting was successful! Pictured are UCSD Students Briana Jauregui, Lania Hassan, Christopher Lee, Brandon Vinh, Kazuya Miyata, Kathleen Le, Aurora Dair, Jack Swantko, Ben Garofalo, Elissa Zhang, Advaith Vinoth, Sean Zhao, Tyler Lentz, Anthony Tarbinian, Zach Mirman, Eduardo Perez, David Nielson and Alex Avalos.  The step for SEFSD participation is when the contest model is ready for flight tests. In the mean time to get a detailed understanding of the challenge awaiting the students, go here :  Competitions — SUAS ( .