Club Spotlight: Design Build Fly

The Cessna/Raytheon Missile Systems Student Design Build Fly (DBF) competition is a highly competitive aerospace design competition put on by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). This competition encourages teams of students to design, build, and prove the flight capabilities of an unmanned aircraft, which must be electrically-powered and remote-controlled.

 Every year, the requirements are changed and updated in order to ensure original designs. The ERAU Prescott AIAA Design-Build-Fly team, composed of about 30 students this year, has been on campus for over 12 years, creating and producing new designs every year for the competition. The DBF team is composed of three subteams: structures, aerodynamics, and propulsion. According to Vice President Gavin McDaniel, The DBF team is composed of three subteams: structures, aerodynamics, and propulsion. Aerodynamics generates an idea of what the airframe looks like, including shapes and configuration of the outer body. The structures team designs the airframe components: ribs, spars, and other parts. The propulsion team decides on the mechanics of the aircraft, responsible for servos, wiring, motors, propellers, and other mechanisms the team needs to fly as far and fast as their competition.

McDaniel says that they are building a fast aircraft for this year’s competition, which limits the wingspan to only 5 feet. They are looking into options involving more than one set of wings. “Last year, the competition aircraft was constructed of laser-cut plywood, laser-cut foam board, and hot-wire cut XPS foam sections. Much of the construction involved a plywood skeleton covered in a Monokote skin.” They are hoping to complete their aircraft by mid-March. They are building several prototypes that will be flown before Thanksgiving break. 

When asked about the hardest part and what takes the longest, McDaniel answers, “The preliminary and critical design phases. This is where we must decide which mechanisms and design concepts will be developed into a fully functional aircraft. Of course, this includes proving exactly why we made these decisions. We have to be capable of defending our design in design reviews and formal reports held to intense scrutiny of our faculty advisors and AIAA judges.” 

When asked what they most enjoy about DBF, Aeros Dynamics Team Lead David Aksenfeld says “I not only get to learn about aerodynamics and preliminary aircraft design, subjects I haven’t yet taken courses in, but I get to teach freshman some of those basic concepts which will give them insight into the aircraft design process.” Structures Team Lead Andrew Rogan says “The AIAA Design Build Fly team on campus has allowed me the opportunity to apply my classroom learning experience to an impactful engineering project. To be able to guide and mentor as part of a team, as well as learning new ideas and skills for myself, is extremely rewarding and gratifying. I feel honored to be a part of this project, to represent our university on the international stage.”

McDaniel recommends the team to others, saying “This club is the best crossover between a hobby activity and career preparation. Many members of this club learn of concepts not covered until junior-level curriculum, and recruiters absolutely love seeing this kind of project experience on a resume. We are an engineering club with real world experiences most students don’t receive until capstone. But, at the same time, we have fun. We get to fly RC aircraft, travel to competitions and meet students from other colleges around the globe.”

Keep your eyes on the sky throughout the year to see the AIAA Design-Build-Fly Team in action!