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UCSD Executes Capstone Design Engineering Class Competition at SEFSD Field

Click the pic above for more info, links and videos.  See Randy’s Pano Shots Here.

By Steve Manganelli

Friday, June 16th was a whirlwind as UCSD executed their own cargo competition at SEFSD field. The competition had (8) teams of (4) to (6) students each plus supporters, parents etc. The flight line was full and 2nd row parking nearly full!

Two years ago, our Chairman of the Board Jovi Murek was approached by UCSD Professor John Hwang about using our field for an Engineering Design challenge involving R/C model aircraft. In it’s inaugural year, (4) teams competed and only one aircraft made a successful flight. Our Founders Award holder Dennis Laberge was their designated pilot. I met informally with one of the leaders scouting the field ahead of time and was told the students were forbidden from flying their aircrafts before the competition!

Skip forward to this year where Jovi was approached by Dr. Hwang for a repeat and the appointed date set for June 16th,  2023, coinciding with the end of UCSDs Spring Quarter. I volunteered to help Dennis this time whom reprised his role as (co)test pilot. When I drove up the field a few minutes before the designated 8:00 A.M. start I was shocked to find all the tables taken with eager students and their creations and the rest of the parking lot full. Based on last year’s experience, we did not plan to close the field to members; however this year’s event was way too large to allow concurrent sport flying. I apologize to the Friday A.M. group expecting to sport fly; next year we will issue a Field Closure blast to prevent any expectations for field availability.

Dr. Hwang and his team certainly learned a lot from the inaugural year as at least (7) of the (8) models made at least (1) successful flight in 2023! The students were constrained to use the same motor and approximately 3S1800 battery packs which were charged and provided by school staff. The models all used the same small servos and each team provided a Radio Master transmitter. The students were allowed to select their own propeller and of course had complete freedom in airframe design. Most were tail dragger monoplanes fabricated from everything from additive 3D printing to laser cut balsa wings with ribs and film covering. Non-built up wings were blue or pink foam with some let-in carbon reinforcement. Teams were very creative in control surface actuation methodology, some of which Dennis and I pronounced unflyable and sent the students back to the bench for rework! In my years of working with students in Design-Build-Fly, control surface hinging, security and placement of the control horn pivot over the hinge line always an issue with fledgling model aircraft designers.

The competition involved maximum speed and payload, the former measured with GPS devices carried in the models and the later : golf balls, the more the better! The teams that had the most serviceable designs engaged in a “top this” competition with more and more golf balls added as the flight window wound to a close. The winning team had (10) golf balls designed to be carried internally to the fuselage and (3) more taped to the outside. Their top speed was in the neighborhood of 70 MPH. Dr. Hwang provided award certificates for fastest model, best design, most payload  and of course best speed/payload and then wished the students a great Summer and a successful career.

I want to thank Randy Wyant for providing dynamic drone footage of the takeoffs and landings and to Dennis Laberge and Aaron Nguyen, recent UCSD graduate for assisting SEFSD in a selfless community service effort. Personally, the elation of the students watching their model take to the air, make a circuit of the field and land successfully for the first time is something I relish and being part of it (8) times was the icing on the cake! It was an honor for SEFSD to help UCSD’s 2023 Aerospace Engineering graduating class and look forward to seeing next year’s class in 2024.