It was a fight to the death for the Barking Spider and the Mid-Atlantic Dirt Dart in the skies over Newport last week.
Five prototype fighters fought it out over the Crystal Coast R/C Club’s Myers Field in a unique challenge between 15 engineering students from various universities in six states.
In the end, the winner was undetermined as a vicious thunderstorm called a premature end to the competition.
One plane got snared by a tree and two others bit the dust in collisions with the ground, all to the hoots and hollers of everyone involved.
The Friday event was part of the Student Engineering Aircraft Readiness Workshop Remote Control Fly-Off. It was a peripheral program that allowed the students to exercise some of the knowledge they had learned in the course of a one-week program that included trips to Fleet Readiness Center East at Cherry Point and to aircraft simulators at New River.
Mechanical and aerospace engineering students from 11 universities, professors from North Carolina State University and Central Connecticut State University, along with engineers and active-duty military personnel joined together for the event that was based at the Havelock campus of Craven Community College.
The N.C. Space Grant Consortium and the Connecticut Space Grant Consortium teamed up with N.C. State Engineering and the In Service Support Center at Cherry Point for the program aimed at breeding new engineers.
“The purpose of the workshop is twofold, to get them interested in military aviation as a career here in North Carolina and the other is just job enrichment,” said Bill Fortney, N.C. State University professor of engineering. “When they come out the other side, they are better engineers. They see engineering in action. They see it really working, so that it enriches what they are doing in the classroom.”
Fortney said the students are getting hands-on lessons.
“What Cherry Point has done is give them a very up-close look at the aircraft and what the engineers are doing, and it’s a very hands-on experience,” Fortney said. “They heard from structural engineers, what they do in maintaining the aircraft, all the repairs, then they went out on the production floor. They were climbing up on test stands. They were inside the aircraft. These were things that these students would never have an opportunity to do. Then they had a session on avionics.”
At New River, the students toured the flight line, met with pilots and maintenance crews, and then saw the simulators at the base.
The students had a second day at Cherry Point where they looked at engines and did a session on accident investigations.
“All the feedback was just phenomenal when they were through this exercise,” Fortney said.
Kenneth Palmer, 19, from Newport, was one of the student leaders in the program.
“We went over the many theories of aviation, the basic principles of helo flight and UAVs,” Palmer said. “My favorite was the materials lab. We tested bonds and saw how strong they would be with epoxy. I really enjoyed it. After I finish my bachelor’s degree here at N.C. State and Craven, I would like to obtain a job at FRC East as a mechanical engineer.”
Five teams of three students each worked together to design and manufacture the five planes used in the fly-off challenge as a night project.
A lab at the Institute for Aeronautical Technology at the Craven campus in Havelock was the site where the students designed and assembled their planes out of foam.
Each plane was put together based on a design that allowed the students to make modifications of their choosing. The base model was created by Brett Pearce, a professor at North Carolina State, who developed the project.
“Most of it was laser-cut using the N.C. State equipment, and the students are allowed to design the wing and the control surfaces. They have complete design control over it,” said Daniel Feagle, 26, a resident of Newport, who is a senior at North Carolina State and a student leader in the program.
He said teamwork is what helps create a better aircraft.
“It gives these students a chance to work together in groups and be able to discuss the design of the entire system and how it will affect the different criteria they are being graded on, top speed, endurance, loiter time and maneuverability,” Feagle said. “It gives them a chance to discuss these tradeoffs and these design decisions that have to be made in the early stages but affect performance later on.”