Only a few more bumps in the road held the plane from hitting the sky. And then, when the competition came near, finally the first test flight was made!
The first test flight
The first one always is a special one. The maiden flight. It’s a moment everyone looks forward to but horrifying at the same time. Who knows what could go wrong. Are the calculations right?
Luckily for the team, the plane survived the first flight. Not exactly a smooth commercial airline flight, but apart from a few scratches, nothing serious happened. After feedback from the pilot, certain small changes were made to the aircraft, mostly to improve the handling of the aircraft.
The second test flight the next day already showed great promise, lifting off with 6kg under very bad conditions.
It also gave the team and the pilot confidence in the flyability of the plane.
Portugal, here we come!
Thursday, the 8th of August, 6 o'clock in the morning. After months of preparation the team from Leuven finally leaves for the competition in Portugal.
The aircraft is safely stored in its transport box, and handed over to the desk at the airport. The next time it will be removed from its box is when it will have to fly.
Just a few hours in Portugal, and everyone is already sweating. Partly because they are nervous, partly due to participating teams are going to change this. The rest of the day is mainly used for getting acquainted with these other teams, some of which have arrived a day early as well.
The second day is filled with the technical inspections of the aircraft and the presentations of the teams.
Since the KULeuven plane succeeds these tests with flying colors, this inspection does not take long.
This leaves them some room to study the other aircraft.
What immediately becomes clear by looking at the aircraft is the constant increase in professionalism.
Where hobbyists could be found between the teams four years ago, this is no longer the case. Just about all the teams are technically in perfect shape, with decent design and budgeting.
For an international competition with 31 teams, this brings many interesting designs.
The first day of competition
The next day, Saturday, is the first real competition day. It was also the first day to see some planes flying. However, throughout the morning a gentle wind continues to grow, and this does not bode well. The teams are given shelter at the runway under military camouflage nets. Here the aircraft can be assembled and prepared.
Each team gets a specific ranking referring to when they can take off. While the organization continues to delay, the wind swells. Crosswinds of 40km/h constitute a serious problem for the competition-oriented aircraft, which by itself fly at a speed of 30km/h.
At 16h, finally the KU Leuven team can perform their flight. In this crosswind, taking off means suicide. To remain in the competition however, a flight has to be attempted.
The aircraft takes off, hoping for the best, but after climbing 15m a strong gust of wind rolls the aircraft to its side and into the ground.
After this event, there are no more take-offs for the next 3 hours. The organization seems to have come to its senses. Unfortunately for us a little bit too late. Despite these setbacks the team did not throw in the towel. A crash was always a possibility. It was thought of in the design. The major carbon fiber structure was protected by the soft wooden landing gear. It was only a matter of hours before this was fixed. The KU Leuven was back in the game!
Sunday brought similar weather problems.
Taking risks in dangerous conditions
Since this was the last day that flights were conducted, a risk had to be taken. In the morning the team decided to perform a flight while other teams still hesitated by the persistent wind, knowing we had time to repair after another crash.
The plane took off with 9kg payload on board, within the prescribed 60 meter runway. Only a few seconds after the take-off, suddenly a gust of wind came up. The aircraft directly responded by putting its nose in the wind. The aircraft remained stable but unfortunately a tent was located in the newly acquired path. For safety reasons the pilot decided to ground the aircraft.
This promising flight came to an end.
During the rest of the day, the wind grew even stronger. Due to this, there was no final flight for the KULeuven team. It's a shame for the team that they had to leave Portugal without getting a fair result. Knowing well enough what the plane could do. Definitely after the very successful test flights in Belgium.
But this is the nature of competition. Many months of hard work finally came together in that one moment. And after all, weather is not something that one can choose. This was the case for all teams. In the end, only 9 of the 31 teams were able to perform a valid flight. These were the teams that had their flight scheduled very early or very late in the first day, when the winds weren't as strong.
The performance we have shown speaks for itself: an airplane weighing only 2.5 kg and having 1,2kg of thrust took off with 9kg of payload!
We did it, though we weren't able to show this in the competition.
For this, we want to thank everyone who has made this possible!
Bart Theys Jeroen De Maeyer
And of course our sponsors:
The ACC Team Leuven