Make it Work: The Sons of Icarus take home second place at SAE competition, a first for aero team

Editor’s note: This story is the final installment in a series following a competitive senior design team throughout both semesters of their Capstone Design project. (Read the first and second installments.) Also refer to our blog, The Engineered Tiger, for supplemental posts, stories and more information regarding the team and their project.

Team leader Tommy LeBeau said he felt like a “glass of sweet tea on a hot summer day,” after LSU’s Micro Class Aero Design team took home second place in the 2016 SAE Aero Design West Competition on April 24. This was the first time an LSU Aero team has attended the annual collegiate design competition in Van Nuys, California.

The team of senior engineering students who have spent their final year designing and creating a small airplane for their capstone project used much of the spring semester to tackle the issue of what would make the plane stay in the air long enough to count as a threat for the other participants in the international contest.

They considered everything from testing different materials for the fuselage (body of the plane) and weights, to adjusting the wingspan of the plane, to even starting over from scratch. LeBeau estimates the team built just over 25 prototypes and conducted around 40 test flights.

Eventually, the team was able to come to an agreement: a monoplane, or a plane with one pair of wings, would do the trick.

“It really was just the most efficient way,” the graduating senior said. “Researching other micro teams from the past, we learned that the most efficient way to have enough lift and carry a lot of weight was to go with a monoplane.”

The plane has a total wingspan of 40.48 inches and was just under 5 and a half inches in height. Additionally, the final design was well suited to be broken down and reassembled to fit into the competition-mandated tube, which measured 6 inches in diameter and was 10 inches long.

With days left before the team was scheduled to travel to California, they gathered to practice the competition presentation into the late evening in Turead Hall. Only four members of the team were allowed to present during the competition, but the rest of the team—Stephen Capella, Ryan Cenac and Ahmed Shawer—attended to support, critique and tweak any necessary items.

Team members LeBeau, Michael Basham, Cade Hoerner and Daniel Fouquet were tasked with eloquently and concisely presenting over a semester’s worth of schematics, designs, analyses and tests—cramming it all into a 10-minute time slot.

Basham explained that if the team were to go over the allotted time of 10 minutes, the team would lose five points, and they wanted to keep every point they earned.

LeBeau said the team even hosted a mock competition presentation, and invited graduate advisor Sean King, local engineer Jack Hawkins and their instructors to attend. He said the team received valuable criticism and applied it to their message.

Later that week, they loaded all the tools and materials they needed into large bins and flew across country to California.

Travel time also doubled as preparation time, as the team jointly practiced the competition presentation and the 30-minute presentation that awaited them once they returned to LSU.

“We had to rent a minivan to travel to and from competition with all of our big bins. It was a lot, but we had fun. My family and a lot of the team’s family members and spouses were able to come out to support. We definitely had a blast, but we were there to do business,” LeBeau said.

At the competition presentation, LeBeau began with an introduction and Basham covered material selection. He and Shawer were the team players responsible for the manufacturing of the plane, and the team ultimately decided that balsawood and carbon fiber would make the plane most competition worthy.

Hoerner and Fouquet outlined the stability analysis, drag analysis and overall aerodynamics of the plane. All topics they were quite familiar with, as aerodynamics was their primary responsibility throughout the academic year.

“We were definitely worried about everything, but we came out good and got it done. Actually, we accomplished the best LSU has ever done at an SAE Aero competition. I guess you could say we made history,” LeBeau said with a laugh.

There were four flight rounds at the competition, and LSU was the only team to successfully fly and land each flight. LeBeau said the repeated success of their flights is what gained the team points.

He explained the first place winners, students from Warsaw University of Technology in Poland, did not complete all of the flight rounds. However, their plane was lighter and carried more weight, a large factor in the competition.

In addition to taking home second place in the overall competition, the team received second place for their report. The comprehensive document was restricted to 30 pages and covered the entirety of the design process, from planning to execution.

“We were expected to pack everything into 30 pages—and we did, but it included all sorts things like how we expected to do in the competition, the entire timeline of our work and our budget. All of that and multiple pages of pictures and diagrams,” LeBeau said.

His advice to upcoming seniors entering the Capstone Design Program this fall is to “hit the ground running.”

“Start as soon as you can,” he said. “Try to get started as early as possible. I’d even go so far as to say, go to your professors and ask for anything available. Ask them what you can work on today.”

# # #

For more information, please contact communications assistant M.B. Humphrey at 225-578-5660 or