Virginia Tech’s Design, Build, Fly team recently finished in fifth place at the 26th annual AIAA/Textron Aviation/Raytheon Technologies Design, Build, Fly (DBF) Competition. This top ten finish marks the Virginia Tech team's best showing at the international event since 2018.

The 2022 contest, held April 21-24 in Wichita, Kansas, attracted more than 700 university students from 69 teams who spent the weekend testing their radio-controlled aircraft. 

This year's competition returned to an in-person format after a pause due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.  Student teams were tasked with designing, fabricating, and demonstrating the flight capabilities of unmanned, electric-powered, radio-controlled aircraft to meet specified mission requirements. The mission for 2022 was to design, build and test an aircraft to deliver vaccination components. Missions included deployment of the aircraft, staging of vaccination syringes, and delivery of environmentally sensitive vaccine vial packages.

The Virginia Tech team is comprised of about 40 undergraduate students from the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering and from majors across the College of Engineering. In their lab space located in the Joseph F. Ware Jr. lab, the team designed and fabricated their plane, which consisted of a carbon fiber composite fuselage with a balsa wing covered with monokote. The final plane design had an 8-foot wingspan and weighed in at approximately 20 lbs. 

Throughout the year, the group held design reviews with their faculty advisor, Rakesh Kapania. Outside of the aerospace and ocean engineering department, the team also relied on design reviews and feedback from industry mentors at Lockheed Martin.

Written reports were submitted to the AIAA and scored in February, impacting the order of flights at the competition. Prior to competition, the team conducted more than 30 test flights on the asphalt airstrip located at the Kentland Experimental Aerial Systems laboratory.

Fourteen members traveled to Wichita, Kansas in April 2022 for competition.
The competition consisted of one ground mission and three flight missions, each requiring a 25-foot takeoff.

Fourteen team members traveled to Wichita for the competition, which consisted of one ground mission and three flight missions, each requiring a 25 foot takeoff. The first mission demonstrated that the aircraft could fly, requiring three laps to be flown within five minutes. The second mission involved carrying as many syringes as possible while flying three laps as fast as possible. The third mission required the aircraft to takeoff, complete a lap, land, and deploy one vaccine package without triggering 25Gs on deployment; this cycle was repeated as many times as possible within 10 minutes. For the ground mission, the team needed to load the aircraft with the entire payload and individually deploy the vaccine vial packages without triggering the 25G sensors.

Virginia Tech scored in fifth place in the report category, and fifth place overall, out of 69 domestic university and international teams.

Industry sponsors of the team include Lockheed Martin, Leidos, AUVSI Ridge & Valley, Thunder Power RC, MotoCalc, Scorpion Power Systems, RockWest Composites.