Design, build, fly

The UNC Charlotte student chapter of American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics is flying high in more ways than one, competing in and raising money for the Design-Build-Fly competition, sponsored by the AIAA, Raytheon Technologies and Cessna, in May 2024, located in Kansas. They will compete against hundreds of teams across the globe.

It’s more than designing the best plane that’s cost efficient, practical and will perform superbly. It’s about recruiting talented students, building teamwork skills and flying high together in order to win.

Kyle VanHorn, president of Charlotte’s AIAA chapter, knows this is the key to success. That is why he asked Ryan Cassada, Imad Rahu, Cole Hood and Chris Curtis to join the group. In order to build a great plane, it’s important to build a great team.

Each member brings something different to the table. Curtis is majoring in mechanical engineering technology with a concentration in electromechanical systems. Rahu, a history major with a data science minor, has a keen interest in aerospace and aeronautical engineering. Hood, in mechanical engineering, is a pilot. Cassada, also a mechanical engineering major, loves aviation, learning new software and exploring aerodynamic theories.

Their expertise in physics, aeronautical engineering, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering goes into building their design: a radio-controlled plane that will complete a list of objectives designated by the Design-Build-Fly competition. It can include anything from short trips to different locations or picking up packages representing supplies in a real-world situation. The mission for the upcoming competition is electronic warfare.

The team went from the initial idea to building the plane over the course of a year. As their design continues to come to life, so did the friendship they built with each other.

“I love watching the team work together and see the progress we have made from the idea to the actual design to the purchasing of equipment,” said VanHorn, an Albert Scholar and Honors College student majoring in mechanical engineering. “I also enjoy watching the excitement of the team members when a new part arrives.”

Hood couldn’t imagine UNC Charlotte without his team. “Working on this engineering project with other students has allowed me to form close bonds with other students very quickly.”

Through crowdfunding and competing in the Design-Build-Fly competition, they’re hoping to build interest in the aerospace industry.

“We hope it will inspire others to develop interests in aeronautical or aerospace engineering or just engineering general,” said Rahu. “Students will develop a wide range of problem solving and critical thinking skills.”

Even with all their hard work, VanHorn knows the support of the community is crucial to winning the competition and growing the aerospace presence on campus.

“There is a definite interest in aerospace among the engineering students at UNC Charlotte; however, there is no aerospace program,” said Vanhorn. “It’s necessary for these students to pursue activities outside of the classroom such as the Design-Build-Fly team to gain experiences that will prepare them for the aerospace industry. This team is not possible without funding from the community.”

Support the Design-Build-Fly team’s crowdfunding site.