Flying high! Meet the Warsaw ‘club’ taking remote controlled aircraft to new heights
To find the workshop of one of the country’s most successful engineering teams one has to go through a maze of countless staircases and corridors of the Power and Aeronautical Engineering faculty, to end up in a dark concrete basement, which remembers the communist times very well, as indicated by the outdated décor and furniture that has long outlived its date of use.
Inside is the workshop of the SAE Aero Design Warsaw club and the birthplace of their award winning unmanned aircrafts.
Ula Gołyska, already an engineer, who is now doing her Masters at the Faculty of Power and Aeronautical Engineering, explained the purpose of the competition: “We create aircrafts for competitions focused on cargo carrying capacity - they are designed to lift the largest possible load.
“Our yearly cycle begins when the regulations of the next edition are released, which is more or less in September. From that moment starts the design period. Once all the blueprints are ready around December/January we start the construction of the first prototypes, so that we can improve them before we must send the technical documentation of the aircrafts.
“Then we focus on the constructions, trial flights. Finally we travel to the States about a week before the competition, we put the last finishing touches, last trial flights and participate in the competition. Once we return we have a slightly different work mode, we focus more on promotion, going to scientific picnics and other events. Then the cycle repeats itself.”
The club and its 21 members continue the 27-year-old tradition, upholding the title of the most decorated in the SAE Aero Design’s history. The competition, established in 1986, simulates a real-world design challenge, where the participants come up with the concept, test and build aircrafts according to set requirements and special tasks they are supposed to perform.
The Warsaw team was established in the early nineties and some of its members are now lecturers at the University of Technology. From what they said, the beginnings were quite rocky. Daniel Pyś, fourth year student and the head of the club recalls: “The conditions were different then, it was the beginning of the 90s, even the trip to the United States was a big civilization crash.
“There were problems with the radio controlling the plane, because they didn’t predict that there might be other frequencies there and the receiver collected data from the CB radio of passing cars.”
Unlike most of their competitors, the team from Warsaw participates in all three classes – Micro, Regular and Advance – and several times, such as in 2013 and 2016, they won them all. Each year only 12 students from Warsaw travel to California (this year to Van Nuys), divided into teams of four for each class.
Michał Modzelewski, a second year student who works on the Advanced class aircraft, said: “The organizers came up with a Mars colonisation scenario. Aircrafts will have to deliver smaller gliders with Ping-Pong balls [the colonizers] on board to the target. They have to autonomously reach the designated spot. In addition, we have to deliver water bottles and habitats for the colonisers.
“After delivery, points are calculated according to a special pattern and the more colonists and cargo we deliver, the better.”
The smallest aircrafts from the ‘Micro’ class are propelled into the air by being thrown by a team member. The goal is to assemble the plane within the time limit and have the best load to weight ratio.
The oldest, most prestigious class is Regular. Their task is to lift as many tennis balls, simulating passengers, as possible. A plane weighting 4,5 kg should be able to lift 3,5 kg of balls and 16 kg of other load.
Weronika Stolarczyk, doing her fourth year and the deputy chairman of the club listed: “There is the overall classification for all three aircrafts, plus separate awards for technical documentation, oral presentation and individual side prizes for different classes. For Micro it’s the largest load-to-mass ration, in Regular it’s for the biggest load moved in one lap and in Advanced it is always for the most accurate cargo drop.”
The Warsaw University of Technology team is not the only one representing Poland. Their colleagues from Poznań have already departed for the SAE Aero Design East competition and they will participate in the West edition as well. Since 2008 they have stood on the podium 21 times and, along with teams from Rzeszów and Wrocław, have ensured that the fight for the top places is often between different Polish teams.
All that remains now is work, work and work some more for their three aircrafts to be fit and ready for their final tests in the US. Ula said: “I think most people don’t realize how much work it takes. At this moment, a month before the competition, even a month and a half, we devote at least 14 hours a day, if not more, to the project.”
“We show up for the lectures just to tell the professors that we will come back in two months to make up all the tests, project and assignments. Fortunately most of them give us the opportunity to postpone them, but we do have to complete all the work,” she added.
While the planes they design are made especially for the competition, experience gathered through the club is priceless when looking for future employment. Team work and a practical approach is what gives them the edge against other freshly made engineers.
In some cases, their designs have real life applications. Michał, whose adventure with the club started when he “attended the recruitment meeting, came down to the basement, looked at the workshop, decided it’s for him and stayed there for the second year now” is programming the commands for dropping the load depending on the conditions, which could quite easily be used by commercial or military drones.