May 2, 2024

NDSU Design, Build, Fly team soars to new heights


A group of NDSU College of Engineering students finished among the best in the nation at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Design, Build, Fly Competition.

Design, Build, Fly is an annual event where student teams are given a set of mission objectives and constraints to design and construct a remotely controlled airplane. This year’s flight objective was Urban Air Mobility. The airplane must be able to conduct a delivery flight, a medical transport flight and an urban taxi flight. Teams also conducted a ground mission demonstrating how quickly they can change their aircraft configuration from delivery to medical transport to urban air taxi.

“This year, our team placed 29th out of 107 flight eligible teams,” said Gavin Fredrichs, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. “Our plane was able to complete all three flight missions and the ground mission. This was a huge achievement as less than 1/3 of the teams were able to complete all the missions.”

Design, Build, Fly and other student competition teams are a key part of the student experience in the College of Engineering, supporting teamwork, communication and collaboration across disciplines, important skills to building successful careers and meeting workforce needs.

“This competition enabled our team to apply the engineering design process we learned from concept generation to manufacturing a finished product,” Fredrichs said. “Following the design process and learning a lot of new information along the way was great training for what working on a project might look like as an engineer. Plus, there are awesome travel and networking opportunities regarding the aerospace field in this club.”

This year marks the largest-ever flyoff participation, with more than 1,000 students on 93 university teams attending onsite. The flyoff was hosted by AIAA Corporate Member Textron Aviation in Wichita, Kansas. Teams from 12 countries and 32 U.S. states participated in the full DBF Competition, including submitting design reports and attending the flyoff.

“Design/Build/Fly is a highlight of the year,” said AIAA CEO Dan Dumbacher. “Aerospace teaches us to adapt to the unexpected. It’s a great lesson for students as they prepare to enter this vibrant and meaningful field. The lessons learned and connections made here will be the foundation for their future careers. Congratulations to the winning teams and all the teams that made it here to the DBF flyoff!”

Students from any major at NDSU are eligible to participate in Design, Build, Fly and the AIAA club on campus. Rules, missions and constraints for the 2025 competition will be released in the fall and the flyoff will be held in April in Tucson, Arizona. Anyone interested in joining can contact team advisor Bora Suzen.

“Our team is most proud of our ability to work together to achieve all the milestones of this project as a small team. Most university teams have 20 or more students working on this competition. While our team size was just seven, we were still able to consistently work hard to make a competitive aircraft,” Fredrichs said. “There are a lot of ways for everyone to participate and the club would love to have more members to help NDSU place even higher in future competitions.”

Other team members this season included senior Noah Schmidt, senior Kyle Vonasek, senior Caleb Hagen, junior Zachary Kent, freshman Terrence Andre San Gabriel and freshman Mackenzie Uhlenkamp.

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