Crimson Skies is the University of Oklahoma’s DBF team that designs, fabricates, and tests a remote controlled aircraft for the AIAA Design, Build, Fly competition. The competition is an annual event hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, in which teams from across the globe compete by designing an unmanned, electric, remotely controlled aircraft to demonstrate flight capabilities that best meet the specified mission profile.
The missions are different every year, which gives the students the opportunity for a new perspective and a chance to innovate in their design. This year, they were tasked with designing a vehicle which was capable of delivering a large payload of sensors. The remote controlled vehicle had to be capable of deploying one of these sensors while in flight, activating an LED pattern on the sensor, recover the sensor back into the aircraft again, and finally performing a successful landing. The individual sensors weighed 0.14 pounds and the aircraft was capable of carrying 35 sensors in total. The team had an overall emphasis on design simplicity but also an understanding that success relied on preparation for the unexpected. This viewpoint resulted in a very robust aircraft made primarily of foam-board to help absorb impact energy rather than spreading it to vital components. This decision had the added benefit of the foam-board being easily repaired with simple tools and materials and low overall weight. In this year’s competition, the maximum weight-limit of the aircraft was 55 pounds but Crimson Skies managed to keep their plane’s weight down to just 19.9 pounds in its heaviest configuration! The team also managed to keep their aircraft to 199.8 watt-hours of energy, just shy of the 200 watt-hour competition limit.
In 2020-21, DBF team was led by Dr. Thomas Hays, their faculty advisor, who played a crucial role in the team’s success. Dr. Hays helped guide the team to an understanding of the AIAA rules, the process of producing a competitive aircraft, and most importantly, by providing his experience with previous Crimson Skies teams. The team was also led by the Team Captain, Naimul Islam, as well as four sub team leads: Thomas Nilles, the chief engineer; Simon Dempsey, whose focus was on Aerodynamics; Adam Henning, who directed Propulsion design; and Blake Raybern, who led Computer Aided Design. During the design phase, the team had a peak of 21 engineering students on the team. The team also received the support and leadership of many OU alumni who volunteered their time to guide the team to a more reliable aircraft and a better understanding of the DBF competition.
In this year’s Design Build Fly Competition, Crimson Skies placed 13th out of 92 teams! This is a fantastic finish for the team, especially during a year that presented several COVID-19 related challenges that included a limit on the number of people that could work on the aircraft at one time. The team was able to achieve this success through the hard work and flexibility of every team member who went above and beyond to meet deadlines and produce results.
For more information about the DBF Crimson Skies team, check out their Facebook page!