Sometimes engineering school really can be fun. Just ask the six Newark College of Engineering undergrads who created and designed their own micro airplane. Three team members recently returned from a memorable road trip to Fort Worth, Texas, to see the “Flying Highlander” take fourth place in a prestigious international aerospace competition.
The Flying Highlander, which resembles an oversized model airplane, has a five-foot wing span with a three-foot-long body. It was designed and built this past winter on the NJIT campus by team members for the annual Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Aero Design West competition. Not an easy do. NJIT students say that many teams start, but never finish this competition. But it is all those long hours that make this engineering exercise stand out forever in the minds of these students.
“The idea was to design an unmanned aerial vehicle to be carried onto a combat field, then re-assembled in the field in under three minutes,” said team captain Michael Anderson of Hammonton. The plane also had to fit into a small box no larger than 18 by 24 by 8 inches to enable easy shipping and portability.
“We liked the assignment because it forced us to be creative and think outside the box,” he said. “Engineers are taught to solve problems. But in this case, we were able to use an imaginative and experimental process to find the best solution.”
The competition also carries weight as an employment credential. To merely complete the race, gives a student one leg up when seeking a paid internship or full-time job. For example, last year the team placed 26 out of 44 in this competition. No matter. Team captain Deepak Patel, who graduated last May with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, was offered a full-time job at NASA’s Goddard Flight Center doing thermal analysis on satellites. This summer, Anderson, a rising senior next fall, will work as a paid intern for General Electric Aviation in Whippany.
“Students and employers know the value of this exercise,” said Anderson. “I think this win will remain a notable accomplishment to use forever on my resume.”
As team captain, Anderson also acquired a better understanding of managing people. “It isn’t easy getting everyone together, scheduling meetings and making sure the team shows up,” he said. Now Anderson feels more confident.
Like many competitions which NJIT engineering students regularly enter, the event was sponsored by Newark College of Engineering. Herli Surjanhata, PhD, a lecturer in the department of mechanical and industrial engineering, was the advisor.
“These competitions have value because students learn much, said Surjanhata. “They start the design from scratch, building the airplane on their own. It is a great way to introduce them to the field of aero-dynamic design,” Last year, a similar team also joined the competition in a division for larger entries, noted Surjanhata. “We didn’t do nearly as well. So, this year, we regrouped and looked at the micro division. Not only did it cost less money to construct a smaller entry, but shipping costs were lower.”
Joining Anderson on the road trip was Jeffrey Van Fossen, of Frenchtown, and Michael Melillo, of Nutley. Anderson was the recipient this past fall of the Curtiss Wright Centennial of Flight Scholarship. Three other team members Carl Ritacco, of Monmouth, Chamberline Nwokey, of Union, and freshman Jonathan Weiss, of Wantage, remained in New Jersey to cheer. Anderson remains high from the win. “What a great experience. It gave us a chance to apply our engineering knowledge. Now, we’re looking forward to next year.”