April 7, 2021

UCalgary team flying high after victory in unmanned aerial vehicle competition

Schulich team of students designs carbon-neutral mobility concept for Florida theme park
The digital rendering of the vehicle, put together by the SUAV Team. Submitted by Shadman Sajid

Imagine going to your favourite theme park or tourist event like the Calgary Stampede and being able to fly from one area of the grounds to another.

That concept was the challenge brought to the University of Calgary’s Schulich Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (SUAV) team in the SAE AeroConnect Challenge recently.

The competition is a student engineering design competition, with this year’s contestants having to design and develop, conceptually, an urban air mobility system for a Florida-based theme park as part of a request for proposals to upgrade its current mobility options.

The teams then had to present their plans in a variety of ways, including a technical design presentation and a showcase on the SAE International AeroTech show floor.

When the three-day virtual event wrapped up, the team from the Schulich School of Engineering was awarded first-overall for a second-consecutive year.

No walk in the park

The SUAV team, which was founded in 2015, knew the competition would be tough. Not only were they coming in as defending champions, but communication would be key with the competition being online.

“We spent a lot of time in this competition validating and simulating our components and modules, trying to make the entire design worked,” said team member Shadman Sajid. “Furthermore, our design was grounded in reality as we knew the aircraft needed to fly and safely carry up to 20 passengers using renewable energy sources.”

The vehicles needed to be carbon-neutral, and also comply with all aviation and safety regulations. In the end, the UCalgary team surpassed its own expectations.

“We designed an aircraft that could adhere to the competition requirements, while scaling down its capabilities to create a feasible design,” Sajid added. “This led to designing a vehicle that could fly for up to 25 minutes at medium-low speeds while carrying up to seven passengers.”

He says, while other teams may have had better theoretical designs, the SUAV design was “practically better-engineered, allowing us to win the competition.”

A team on cloud nine

Sajid believes it was his team’s technical engineering that set it apart from the competition, but it was still hard to put into words how team members felt as the results were announced.

“Personally, I felt a mix of relief and excitement,” he said. “Winning in front of a large crowd is always thrilling, and I felt relieved because we had finally seen the result of our hard work and decision-making throughout the year.”

The win provided some affirmation after they claimed the title in 2020 in a close race that led some of his teammates to wonder if they just got lucky.

“A second consecutive win allowed us to prove to ourselves and to the international SAE collegiate community that we truly were the best competitive undergraduate design team for emerging aviation design,” Sajid said.

Schulich School of Engineering associate professor and faculty advisor Chris Morton couldn’t agree more, saying he was proud and excited to see the team succeed.

“This is showing that, on a global scale, we have top engineering talent and training in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Calgary,” said Dr. Morton, PhD. “With the introduction of our multi-disciplinary Minor in Aerospace Engineering available in the undergraduate program within Schulich, an even greater pool of engineering students will be taking part in these global competitions.”

With that, Morton believes UCalgary’s successes will grow while the student experience will be unparalleled. That opportunity is what Sajid and the team are focusing on now.

“We learned so many valuable lessons while taking part in this competition, with the most important being persistence,” he said. “We saw many teams drop out and, while we also struggled to complete what seemed like an impossible task, we ultimately kept going because we genuinely believed in ourselves.”