OC engineering students earn top-10 finish in international flight competition “Afterburners” team places 10th in the flying competition at SAE Aero Design East

Mar 19, 2018

For the second year in a row, Oklahoma Christian University engineering students have placed in the top 10 in an international flight competition. Just last week, the OC team competed in the Society of Automotive Engineering Aero Design East competition in Lakeland, Florida. A total of 35 teams from six countries design, build-to-scale and successfully fly radio-controlled airplanes with a payload. OC’s team placed 10th in the flying component.

Assistant Professor of Engineering Bradley Buxton advised OC’s team. He emphasized communication skills because judges also evaluate teams for their written and oral performance.

“This is a truly international competition, and our team’s goal is to be among the best every year,” Buxton said. “The OC engineering students know that teamwork and communication are just as important as design.”

Essentially a heavy-lift contest, the goal is for each team to maximize the amount of weight on their planes, accounting for passengers and luggage. Students will attempt to fly their planes successfully, and they are required to give an oral presentation on their designs.

OC’s team adopted the name “Afterburners.” Sawyer Pehkonen led the team, which also included Fredrick Akuamoah, Luke Bruton, Braydan Castrop, Evan Lockhart, James Olsson, Caleb Salmon and Jake Sanderson.

One of the team’s goals was to fly their airplane with 40 tennis balls on board; each ball represents a passenger. This year’s design is about twice the size of the aircraft OC’s team competed with last year. That team earned fifth and beat out 29 teams from around the world.  

This year's fuselage designer, OC student Fredrick Akuamoah, explained the difficulty the team faced.

"In aero design, once the plane takes off, it’s at the mercy of the weather, so minimizing the design and manufacturing flaws as much as possible is critical to succeeding," he said. "Most teams give up after failure, but this team is not one of those. I love the effort every one of us brings to help the team succeed."

According to Buxton, learning from failure is how OC’s team became better.

“Failure is preparation for success,” Buxton said. “This group became a team after suffering the loss of three aircraft in test runs. At the competition, we scored in five of seven test flights, which only nine teams accomplished. We diagnosed a power failure, fixed the problem and had three successful flights the next day. I’m very proud of this team as they never gave up.”

The first SAE Aero Design East competition began in 1986 in Kansas City, Kansas. The competition has grown immensely, with almost 600 students from 75 teams participating from around the world. Universities from the United States, Canada, India, Egypt, Poland and Brazil competed this year.

The competition provides beneficial future career opportunities for students and prepares them for situations they will likely encounter after college. OC’s team included six juniors who will be well-prepared for next year.

“They are already thinking about the design of their next airplane and now understand how hard they must work to win,” Buxton said.

Here is a video of the team test-flying the plane.