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Aerospace students claim top spot in international competition

Thu, 11/17/2016

LAWRENCE — A combined team of students from the University of Kansas School of Engineering and Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology has won a prestigious aircraft design competition for university undergraduates.

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Foundation announced in October the KU-RMIT team had won its 2015-2016 Undergraduate Team Aircraft Design Competition with its entry, “An Investigation and Adventure into Competitive Aerobatic Light Sport Aircraft.” The Jayhawk-Redback team beat 25 other teams from top aerospace programs and technical institutes around the world.

“It takes a team to do this,” said Riley Sprunger, a first-year master's degree student in aerospace engineering at KU. He led the team as a senior undergraduate. “It’s not something you can sit down and work through on your own. Everybody has to contribute something to the project.”

Other Jayhawks on the team were Taylor George of Scott City; Jefferson Vlasnik of Omaha, Nebraska, and Joel Eppler of Paola. They were joined by five students from RMIT, based in Melbourne, Australia.

The combined team was created with the help of Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, professor of aerospace engineering, who is longtime friends with Cees Bil, the RMIT faculty member who advised the Australian team.

“In this electronicized age, collaborating around the world is not prohibitively difficult,” Barrett-Gonzalez said. “We expose our students to the vagaries and pleasure of working around the globe. It’s a great introduction to how their working lives will be — there’s no such thing as a purely domestic airplane company anymore. They’re all at least partly international."

“We split up the work as best we could,” Sprunger said. “We got some good international friends out of it.”

The competition involved designing an aerobatic light sport aircraft. Sprunger said his team gained an advantage by quizzing a Lawrence aerobatic pilot (and KU aerospace engineering alumnus), Ron Renz, and inspecting the plane he uses, as well as other aerobatic pilots around the country. That helped the team gain an edge in understanding what kind of plane would sell on the market.

“After talking to pilots who had been flying 20-30 years, we knew what they wanted in a plane. We knew we were designing something that flies competitively and is marketable,” Sprunger said. “It’s easy to think about all the technologies and configurations you can do, but at the end of the day, if pilots won’t buy it, you’re wasting your time.”

The result? A sleek design called “The Screamin’ Dingo,” which team members estimated could be produced at a cost of $95,000.

“It’s a large amount of work even to go through the preliminary design process,” Sprunger said. “It shows me how much work a company has to do to bring a plane to market.”

The combined KU-RMIT team won $500 for the first-place showing; it marks the 83rd time a KU-affiliated team has won an AIAA Aerospace Design award.



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