“Airplanes rock!” Phil Rodman, mechanical engineering sophomore, said. That was the sentiment across the board for VooDoo Designs’ members as they got their plane ready for an international competition.
Sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the Aero-Design West competition took place in Van Nuys this year. The competition started March 16 with oral presentations and quality inspections to ensure the planes were safe to fly on Saturday.
Saturday is when the teams took to the skies. Boise State’s VooDoo Designs Aero Club is in the advanced class.
“There are three classes: micro, regular and advanced,” club President Mallory Yates explained. Yates, a senior in the mechanical engineering program, is one of the people going to the competition.
“The majority of the club is coming—it depends on if they can miss classes,” she said.
They set out for California late Wednesday, March 14, planning to arrive Thursday. The plane was pulled behind them on a trailer to get there.
In advanced class there are some extra challenges in addition to the standard payload lift challenge where weight is inserted into the wings of the plane before flight in the form of bars of metal. The aircraft is also required to have a data acquisition system, which collects things like speed and distance traveled, as well as taking off within a certain distance.
The design this year is very similar to last year’s. The only visible difference is the fuselage (main body of the plane), which is extended. A lot of the other changes are small, detail based. According to Yates, there were a lot of issues with the landing gear last year and they wanted to fix that.
The design this plane used took two and a half years to develop. It was designed by Boise State alumn Alex Miller, who graduated with a materials science degree in 2009.
“I’ve always been fascinated by aeronautics, so I guess I joined up and never quit,” Miller said. He has been involved in the aero-design club since it first formed.
This is the seventh year the club has gone to the competition—the first four in the regular class and the last two in advanced. The micro class never interested them, as those really were “just models,” Brendan Healy, senior member and junior in the mechanical engineering program, said.
With six competitions under its belt, the club had a strategy in mind. Ideally there would be test flights before leaving for the competition, but not this year.
“Not for this plane—this one’s an all for one, we’ll just go for it,” Yates said.
Their reward for all their hard work? Well, there was prize money on the table with $1,000 for first place, $750 for second place, and $500 for third place. The team got to meet other plane-minded students from around the world because the competition included teams from India and even some from Germany. But when all is said and done, the real reward is being able to build planes.
Some have been members for years, joining the club when they heard about it at events like Engineering Extravaganza. Others are dragged in by their well-meaning roommates.
“One day they (Nate Phillips and Brendan Healy) were just like, ‘You’re coming with us,’ and I didn’t really have anything else to do on Friday nights,” Michael Large, mechanical engineering sophomore, said. Large helped work on the fuel system for the new engine, hoping to get it and the back-up engine ready in time to run a few tests on them.
“Mallory invited me and I’ve been coming ever since. I wish I’d gotten into it sooner,” Kelci Parrish, mechanical engineering senior, said. This is her first and last year in the club.
“I came here in high school with my cousin. I’ve been coming as much as I can off and on for a year and a half,” Nate Phillips, a junior in mechanical engineering, said.
After driving home on Monday, the club isn’t going to rest on their laurels for very long. Instead they’ll be trying to make the plane even better, fixing problems and fiddling.
Then they get to do the fun stuff.
“See this plane? It’s cool, two-engine plane. Not even a competition plane. They just made it over the summer for fun,” Healy said, pointing at one of the many aircraft hanging in the Harry W. Morrison Civil Engineering Building.
“We get to play and make weird planes—just see if we can make things fly,” Yates said.
The club is a way to turn passion for flight into a reality, giving students a chance to see what works (or doesn’t), meet current members of the aerospace industry and figure out if they enjoy making things fly.
“This is all brand new and I didn’t think I was into it before, but after this—it’s interesting,” Thomas Green, sophomore mechanical engineering major and first-year member of the VooDoo Designs Aero Club, said.
“This is one of the coolest things that happens in college,” Dick Sevier, research support engineer and safety liasion for the College of Engineering, said on seeing the plane. There was an open house for professors and administrators to see the plane on March 14 while the team got ready to leave.