OC’s “Afterburners” prepare for international competition

Oklahoma Christian University’s “Afterburners” is a team of engineering students that competes against universities from around the world. From March 9-11, the team will travel to Lakeland, Florida, to compete in the Society of Automotive Engineering Aero Design East competition. The competition allows students to participate in a real-life scenario that challenges their knowledge and interpersonal communication skills.

OC’s Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Bradley Buxton, is proud of this year’s team and how they work together.

“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.”

The first SAE Aero Design East competition was 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, India, Egypt, China, Canada, Poland and Brazil will be represented in the competition.

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.

“Afterburners,” led by senior Sawyer Pehkonen, is comprised of eight students who are working diligently to prepare for the competition. The other members of the team are Fredrick Akuamoah, Luke Bruton, Braydan Castrop, Evan Lockhart, James Olsson, Caleb Salmon and Jake Sanderson. One of the team’s goals for this year is 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, Fredrick Akuamoah, explained the difficulty the team faces.
"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."

A mistake in team communication resulted in a broken aircraft in a flawed early test run this year, but the team learned a valuable lesson from the mishap and is moving forward. Although there were a few bumps in the road at first, the test flights of the plane are becoming increasingly more successful.

“Failure is preparation for success,” Buxton said. “The failures we experience will only better prepare us for the competition.”

Another goal on the team’s agenda is to place in the top five like last year’s team. This competition provides beneficial future career opportunities for students and prepares them for situations they will likely encounter after college. OC’s tradition of success in this competition is good for the engineering department and especially the student participants.