19 December 2023

Despite a number of setbacks, LiU master's students won a title in the big SAE Aero Design aviation competition in Brazil. LiU is now investing in recurring student projects aimed at competing with small, remote-controlled aircraft.

Photo of students assembling sm
The students from the Aeronautical engineering master's program assemble the aircraft in the workshop at Linköping University.
“Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. But we learned a great deal along the way”, says Cezar-Victor Borugă.
The LiU students from the Master’s Programme in Aeronautical Engineering are happy and proud and have returned with both a trophy and new, practical experiences.
 Aeronautical students with small aircraft assembled at LiU. The students from the master's program in aeronautical engineering are happy for the title they got in the international competition.
“A lot of this can’t be learned in any other way. Being able to benefit from each other’s skills in the team, for example,” says Rana El Sayed.

Unexpected support from Saab

From the beginning, it was “only” to be a course in aircraft design and in building an airworthy plane. But, thanks to the commitment of associate professor David Lundström and sponsorship from Saab, the students were given the opportunity to participate in the SAE Aero Design competition in Brazil.
Students at the competition airport. Students on the runway before the competition.

Studenterna at the runway, before the competition.Students on the runway, before the competition. The competition consisted of over 80 teams competing in three different classes and a total of about 1,500 students. The LiU team filmed a test flight in Norrköping, was admitted to the competition and suddenly things became urgent.

“We built the most crucial parts in just one weekend. And to get into the advanced competition class, we had to have a lot of electronics and a camera on board,” says Natalia Zalewska.

Some teams crashed

Other requirements were to have a camera on board and that water could be released from the aircraft in a controlled way. Four drinking bottles were placed under the wings. There was also a requirement that a QR code should be scanned to determine which bottles would be emptied automatically.

“In the competition, only us and the winning team managed it. And we managed to drop the water so that it drifted in over the judging booth!”

"We only had
one engine" 
Some teams crashed, and even the LiU team suffered misfortune. Among other things, a wing broke when the plane hit a pole on landing after the first flight.

A red nailed finger pointing at the electronics in the aircraft.Assembling a small aircraft at LiU. Photo credit Ulrik Svedin “We also had problems with an engine that couldn’t handle the Brazilian heat and caught fire. And we only had one engine with us! But, we borrowed one from another team. A very nice gesture. A bit unexpected too, but it shows what a good atmosphere there was. Afterwards, when we’d won second prize, we were treated like rock stars by the other teams,” says Cezar-Victor Borugă.

Forming an association

Scientist by a remote controlled airplane.David Lundström, scientist and teacher at LiU. Researchers by the remote-controlled aircraft. David Lundström, associate professor. Now both the students and the Aero programme are intent on forming an association to build a competitive tradition with aircraft.

The inspiration is LiU Formula Student, which has been around for many years. It is a student association that develops and designs a racing car every year to compete against universities from all over the world.

“We have formed the association and the students who were in this year’s SAE Aero Design can contribute their experiences to next year’s team. We think this will be a great addition to the programme. It will be an incentive for Aero students. And it gives both inspiration and practical experience,” says associate professor David Lundström.



Facts: SAE Aero Design

SAE Aero Design is an international organisation dedicated to connecting engineers worldwide. Among other things, they arrange a number of competitions for engineering students. SAE Aero Design is one of those and is aimed at educating the aviation engineers of the future.

Competitions are held in both North and South America. SAE Aero Design in Brazil is the largest, with the competition annually involving over 80 teams and about 1,500 students.

The competition is divided into three classes: Micro, Regular and Advanced. The Advanced class, which LiU students participated in, is designed to encourage collaboration between different engineering talents.

The competition involves designing (optimising) and building an aircraft based on tight specifications and also integrating the electronics and software needed for the actual flight.


Flight component 2023:

  • Fly with as much payload as possible, given limited take-off weight and take-off distance.
  • Collect a variety of flight data to be handed over on a memory stick to the competition committee directly upon landing.
  • Carry four water tanks, which the aircraft's flight computer is able to open and empty after scanning a QR code on the ground informing of the tank, or tanks, to be emptied.
  • Film and link to the forward view of the aircraft with overlaid flight data like a virtual cockpit.
  • Further, there are a number of safety requirements for the design and electronics, as well as requirements to be able to quickly lift in and out payload in the form of weights. In addition to the flight component, the final result of the competition also weighs in a written report and a presentation that the students give to the competition committee.

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