While the task of building a small, 2m aircraft may sound simple, we’d be lying if we said we hadn’t had difficulties and challenges over the past two years.
Almost immediately the team realised the need for more cross-departmental collaboration throughout the university, with signups to the team coming from across the entire university.
A diverse team has pros and cons, a great range of expertise, but equally the need to teach those without specific experience or knowledge before they can begin work on the craft.
Being completely self-run, the initiative is essentially experimental. The onus is on the students to work together, efficiently and within the schedule, to maximise the outcome of this project.
Our Academic Supervisor, Robert Treharne, setup the project in conjunction with calls to provide more cross-departmental collaboration as well as more hands-on experience.
Design & Technical Challenges
With regards to the design, competition rules stipulate maximum dimensions, wing loading and mass of the craft. They also state that any batteries used must be drained completely upon take-off. The current major challenge and focus for the team is the small fact that take-off requires far more power than the solar cells can provide, an issue that can partially solved by designing the craft so that it can be hand thrown.
Another issue, although somewhat less important in the short term and more aligned with our long-term aims, is the need to create not only the lightest possible craft, but also one that is resilient enough to survive a crash, upgradable and has potential beyond a basic flight test/competition.
The team is composed of students from across the university. STEM based subjects make up the majority of our team, but we have recently begun working with Business/Management students. We have also teamed up with the Enactus society at the University, Enactus Liverpool, in the hope of furthering some of their more technical projects. Enactus Liverpool aims to create sustainable business models and products for disadvantaged people around Liverpool and across the globe.
With such a broad base, the team have a range of expertise, from management to aerofoil design. The vast number of people led us to split into sub-teams, each with an individual focus. These teams include Electronics (or more accurately avionics and Solar Technology), Fuselage Design, Wing Design, Manufacturing Techniques and finally a Management sub-team.
Most sub-teams are self-explanatory, but others do a variety of more specialist work. The Manufacturing Techniques sub-team, for example, started off as a group of Physics and Engineering students researching, developing and understanding the materials needed for the craft. This work mainly revolved around carbon fibre, and with the help of the Carbon Fibre Composites lab in the Physics department, led to the Construction team. We now have a group of students who have been taken through and taught the entire process from mould manufacturing to composite layup. Included below are some photographs of some of the group's work.
The management team is another team that do more work than their name would suggest. As well as ensuring the team stay on time, creating schedules and combining designs from each sub-team, they also find new sponsors and industry partners, maintain our social media accounts and build and update our website.
Whilst somewhat practical and management based, the two sub-teams above are led by 4th Year Physics Undergraduates, each using their experience of both technical degree work, but also project work, to ensure the team functions smoothly.