Cal Poly’s Design Build Fly club traveled to Wichita, Kan. to face some stiff competition and came home with fifth place out of 69 teams.
The competition started in 1996 and invites teams from schools worldwide to fly model planes they design and build. The competition ranks the teams on three criteria: a paper describing the design process, the weight of the model plane and the flight score for three “missions,” loading the plane with cargo and flying it.
Cal Poly beat teams from MIT, the Turkish Air Force Academy and Pennsylvania State University.
Brian Borra, an aerospace engineering student and the club’s leader, said it meant a lot to compete with schools traditionally considered academic powerhouses.
“There are so many variables in that competition. There were a lot of teams out there that weren’t as well prepared (as we were),” he said. “I wouldn’t say that we are better; I would say we are on par with those schools.”
Rob McDonald, the club’s faculty adviser, said Cal Poly’s team was very inexperienced compared to the other teams, having a good number of freshmen and sophomores.
“The Design Build Fly competition is very, very competitive and the teams that come in on the top take it very seriously,” he said. “The top three or so teams are near perfect across the board. So the fact they did so well is really impressive.”
Bradley Schab, the team’s pilot and an aerospace engineering freshman, said he wasn’t nervous at all for the flight competition since he has been flying remote-controlled airplanes since he was nine years old and in competitions since he was 12.
Schab almost wasn’t able to do the last flight of the competition because of his travel arrangements back from the competition.
“I was disappointed with the last flight because it was slower than we wanted and we had done it faster before the competition,” he said. “We were in 8th or 9th place before the last mission, and Brian actually called me while I was on the plane (to leave) to tell me (we got 5th).”
The missions this year were to load up the plane with softballs and “bats” which were actually PVC pipes weighted to simulate the weight of a bat. Cal Poly’s team name played off the softball theme; “Swings Both Ways” and followed the tradition of inappropriate team names, Borra said.
“Every year, we come up with the most crass and inappropriate team name that fits the theme,” he said citing “24 Inch Wood,” a previous year’s entry.
The name differentiates them from their competitors, who have names like OSU (Oklahoma State University) Black or TLAR Velox, and also reflects the attitudes of the team.
“We have character,” Borra said. “A lot of schools take this (competition) as a class. We do this on our own. The sense of camaraderie and friendship that you gain from the club is what kept me going working for hours on end.”
The design and building process begins in the fall after the rules for the competition are announced in August, Borra said. The team discusses their plan for around five hours every week from fall to April, not including the build weekends, which Borra said happened every other week.
With almost all the team coming back next year, Schab said he is excited to see how well they can do.
“There was definitely a learning curve for a lot of people,” he said. “The hardest thing was teaching other people how to do things without coming off too harsh. We will have a lot more experience next year.”