Oklahoma Christian University mechanical engineering students are gearing up for the annual, prestigious international Society of Automotive Engineers Aero Design competition.
Each year, a group of Oklahoma Christian mechanical engineering students participates in the SAE competition as part of a senior project. The project covers three semesters, beginning with the construction of an aircraft and ending with the international competition.
Senior Marina Pendleton is the student leader of this year’s eight-member team competing in the competition, consisting of seniors Joshua Hartman, Jordan VanBuskirk, Ben Griffith, Wesley Shepherd, Ian McElfresh, Mitch Barron, Layne Hammer and Pendleton. According to Pendleton, the project involves several aspects.
“We went through the design and research phase, we went through designs used in the past, either by other schools who competed at SAE Aero Design or OC in the past,” Pendleton said. “During the fall semester we did more finalizing of our design, built our design — the aircraft — and we did some test flights.”
Pendleton said this year the team is expected to surpass previous Oklahoma Christian teams in the SAE competition. According to Pendleton, while other teams encountered test crashes in the past, this year’s team has only encountered a few, minor setbacks.
“What’s remarkable about this year, based on feedback from professors, is we’ve gotten a lot more successful flights than other groups in the past,” Pendleton said. “Our team has been able to build on our success and develop a design we believe will be good for competition.”
This year the competition is set for March 11-12 in Fort Worth, TX. Schools from across the world will compete alongside Oklahoma Christian in the regular class. According to Pendleton, regulations for the competition include a fixed-wing vehicle limited to 1,000 watts of power with no carbon fiber used in construction.
The goal of the competition is for each aircraft to successfully carry as many passengers, represented by tennis balls, and the passengers’ luggage, represented by .5 pounds of steel plates, as possible.
“In order to score points we have to complete a successful flight, which means taking off within 200 feet on the runway, making a circle, and then coming back and landing within 200 feet without anything on the plane breaking,” Pendleton said.
This year’s team is led by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Bradley Buxton. Buxton said as opposed to previous years, he believes this team is better prepared due to both successful flights and team member experience, such as pilot Hartman.
“We’ll have a huge advantage,” Buxton said. “Our pilot will have flown our airplane probably towards five to 10 times before he flies it at competition.”
According to Buxton, he has high expectations for the team as they head into competition.
“We’ve learned a lot of lessons,” Buxton said. “We have a really good team. When we go to competition with a more-proven airplane with a really good pilot who’s flown the airplane several times, we’re going to compete really well.”
Griffith worked with the wing design for this year’s team. According to Griffith, over the course of the project the team has learned to be self-sufficient.
“It’s taught me how to be a part of a team that’s self-functioning,” Griffith said. “We don’t have to have a professor tell us, ‘This is important.’ We know exactly what’s not important and what is important. We know how to work efficiently.”
Griffith said as competition grows closer, he’s looking forward to seeing how the Oklahoma Christian team’s aircraft performs against other universities.
“What I’m most excited about competition-wise is we seem to be a little more successful than last year’s team,” Griffith said. “I’m excited to see whether or not we’ll be competitive, if our success here is being translated across the board to all the other design teams or if we’re actually going to be in competition for top five.”