group shot of team with model airplane

Aerospace Engineering Students Score First Place at Design/Build/Fly Competition

group shot of team with model airplane

From left to right, Aircraft Design Instructor Gonzalo Mendoza, Thomas Zumsteg, Chao Lao, Rahul Bhanushali, Norman Romero, Norio Eda, Aaron Crosby, Tung Dao and Joel Horst.

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

Neither a tornado (yes, a tornado!) nor equally fierce competition from 67 other teams representing the best engineering colleges in the nation kept San Jose State from scoring first place in the 2012 Cessna Aircraft Company/Raytheon Missile Systems/AIAA Design/Build/Fly Competition Flyoff April 13-15 in Wichita, Kansas.

“Our students are to be congratulated for their excellent design skills, their creativity as well as their communication skills (second best report in the competition),” wrote Professor and Director of the Aerospace Engineering Program Nikos J. Mourtos. “Many kudos go also to Gonzalo Mendoza, our own alumnus, who coached our team to victory.  We are very lucky to have him!”

Here’s more from David Levy, who shared the following report on behalf of the Design/Build/Fly Competition Flyoff Governing Committee.


The 2012 Cessna Aircraft Company/Raytheon Missile Systems/AIAA Design/Build/Fly Competition Flyoff was held at Cessna East Field in Wichita, KS on the weekend of April 13-15, 2012. This was the 16th year the competition was held. A total of 68 teams submitted written reports to be judged. At least 57 teams attended the flyoff, 54 of which completed the technical inspection. Approximately 500 students, faculty, and guests were present. Attendance was down this year due to a new rule limiting universities to a single team, however, the quality of the teams, their readiness to compete, and the execution of the flights was extremely high.

The primary design objectives for this year were performance based:
Mission 1 was scored on the number of laps which could be flown in 4 minutes, so speed was important
Mission 2 simulated carrying a specified passenger load for three laps, testing load-carrying ability.
Mission 3 measured airplane time to climb with a two-liter water payload.

Total flight score was the sum of the three mission flight scores. As usual, the total score is the product of the flight score and written report score, divided by airplane empty weight. More details can be found at the competition website:

This year the flyoff was affected by significant weather events. Flights were suspended Saturday at 12:45 p.m. by high winds, and when they did not subside by 2 p.m. activities were terminated for the day. That night, a severe storm cell hit southeast Wichita and a tornado passed approximately ¼ mile from Cessna East Field. The hangar escaped damage – except for the food vendor trailer which was flipped – but downed power lines forced closure of the road to the site and prevented normal access. It was determined that the flyoff could not continue and a recovery plan was implemented to provide access through the main Cessna plant for teams to recover their property. We are all thankful that none of the teams experienced any property loss, and also that there weren’t serious injuries to any of the Wichita population.

Despite this unprecedented weather event, two complete rotations through the flight queue were completed, and there were ten attempts at a third flight. By unanimous consensus of the DBF Organizing Committee, it was ruled that the winners of the competition would be based on the scores from the two complete rotations. This was considered the most fair, as the overwhelming majority of teams did not get an opportunity for a third attempt.

First place is awarded to San Jose State University: Team PhalanX, with the second highest report score, excellent flight scores, and second lowest RAC. Second place goes to University of California at Irvine: Angel of Attack, and third place to University of Colorado: H2BuffalO. It
should also be noted that Colorado and Irvine were the only two teams to complete all three missions, even though the third score ultimately was not used. This is a testament to their readiness to fly and to their final execution of the missions. Finally, special mention goes to Wichita State University for the highest report score at 96.50 (WSU also had the low RAC at 1.72 lb). The complete standings are listed in the table below.

We owe our thanks for the success of the DBF competition to the efforts of many volunteers from Cessna Aircraft, the Raytheon Missile Systems, and the AIAA sponsoring technical committees (Applied Aerodynamics, Aircraft Design, Flight Test, and Design Engineering). These volunteers collectively set the rules for the contest, publicize the event, gather entries, judge the written reports, and organize the flyoff. Thanks also go to the Corporate Sponsors: Cessna Aircraft, Raytheon Missile Systems, and the AIAA Foundation for their financial support. Special thanks go to Cessna Aircraft for hosting the flyoff this year.

Finally, this event would not be nearly as successful without the hard work and enthusiasm from all the students and advisors. If it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t keep doing it.