A team of 11 students representing the University of Tennessee at Martin placed second in the nation and fifth internationally at the 2019 SAE International Aero Design East Competition, held March 8-10 in Fort Worth, Texas. This annual event, sponsored by professional aerospace firms including Lockheed Martin and SpaceX, invites teams of student engineers from around the world to compete in the design, presentation and flight of a self-constructed aircraft.
UT Martin competed against 20 other schools in the advanced category and was one of the only institutions represented that does not have a dedicated aerospace engineering program. Despite this fact, UT Martin students have placed among the top three in the nation three times in the past five years. This year, UT Martin came in fifth in the world behind the Georgia Institute of Technology, Wroclaw University of Technology in Poland, Pontifical Catholic University-Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Vellore Institute of Technology in India (first through fourth place, respectively).
Each competition has a unique challenge for participating teams to achieve while constructing and testing their aircraft.
“The objective of this year’s mission was to design and construct a primary aircraft capable of delivering a colonist delivery aircraft, habitats and water payload to a specific drop target,” said Connor Alley, team leader and a senior from Martin. In other words, the aircraft had to transport several contained loads, including two independently-functioning “colonist” pods, and drop those loads precisely within a target zone. “All this must be accomplished with a minuscule 750 watts of power to the motor on the primary aircraft,” added Alley.
The students designed, constructed and tested the aircraft and all electrical and mechanical components themselves over the course of the previous year in preparation for competition this spring. While the aero design team is always open to students of all majors, students not studying engineering are often reluctant to participate. However, the 2019 team included four students outside the engineering major: two computer science students, a veterinary technician student and pre-veterinary student.
“This greatly improved our team in several ways. It has provided the team with multiple sources of information and resources. It has also greatly helped by allowing the engineers to focus on the design project while the non-engineering majors take on tasks such as project management, finance and marketing,” said Alley.
“This competition … is a truly worldwide stage. The competition is funded and run by several large companies such as Lockheed Martin, Solidworks and SpaceX,” Alley added. “These companies recruit students for internships and job offers from the best teams in the competitions. The design analysis that a project of this scale requires gives students ample experience to set them up for the workplace.”
Alley’s team members include Caleb Bell, a senior from Bartlett; Haley Baker, a freshman from Arlington; Caleb Wassman, a senior from Camden; Erich Otto, a sophomore from Medina; Jon Wilbert, a junior from Medina; Matthew Austin, a senior from Jackson; Meredith Brown, a senior from Trezevant; Justin White, a senior from Tiptonville; Sydney Tittle, a senior from Kingston Springs; and Samantha Curd, a senior from Westmoreland.
Dr. Doug Sterrett, professor of engineering, and Ashley Owens, lecturer of engineering, serve as faculty advisers to the team. Sterrett is also the official pilot of the team plane during competitions.