The 2013 Air Cargo Challenge

Tuesday 23 July 2013
The 2013 Air Cargo Challenge
14 students from the University of Leuven, working on the light weight model aircraft.


The European Association of Aerospace Students, EUROAVIA, is organizing the "2013 Air Cargo Challenge". The objective is to build a model aircraft that can carry as much payload as possible.
team of students from the University of Leuven is participating to this competition, with the support of Newtec and a few other companies.

Here's a first report from Jef Daniëls and Bart Theys, 2 member of the 14 people working on the project, on how they are doing with the design, build and first tests...

The Air Cargo Challenge

The Air Cargo Challenge is an international competition for engineering students. The goal is to design, build and fly a model aircraft. This aircraft then has to carry as much payload as possible. The payload can be up to 80% of the total weight of the airplane! In the competition, there are some extra limitations. There is a transportation box in which all parts of the aircraft should fit. The runway is only 60m and the motor is selected by the organization.

In 2011 we already participated in the Air Cargo Challenge. We were 5th back then. Meanwhile, some of our ex-team members graduated. Others are now doing their PhD and the rest are in their masters. When last summer, we heard that the competition would be held again in 2013, we began to recruit new additional members for our team.

In the previous edition, our team consisted of 6 members. 3 bachelor and 3 master students. This time, no less than 14 engineering students are helping to get this plane flying. Amongst them are 4 bachelor students, 8 master students and even a PhD student!

The start of the project

In September, we started with the administration. We arranged that the theoretical studies of the airplane could be done in collaboration with KULeuven. When in October, finally, the regulations were available, we began brainstorming. We explored some new concepts (i.e. flying wings). But none of them were really suitable for the task (carrying a high payload). So we went back to the drawing board and tried to design a traditional aircraft which was as light as possible. Meanwhile, the exams came near so the work was postponed till January.

The design and construction method 

After the exams, our team started to design the plane. It is very hard to build a light plane that is also stable. It shouldn’t be a stunt plane, but it had to be able to take off, make turns, land and even crosswind landings without crashing. With some open source programs and advanced calculations, finally after 4 months, a flyable design was obtained in May.

In parallel with designing, we compared some building options. Designing a plane is one thing, but building it is quite another. The real challenge was not to keep it light. In the age of carbon fibre you have some possibilities. But keeping it cheap and reliable is very hard. Since we had no money and experience to use advanced techniques such as hand layup of carbon fibre, other more easy and cheap methods were selected. We tried different designs from foam wings to wood and foil (balsa and Oracover). In the end, these methods weren’t a bad option.

Then the building started

After the exams, our design and construction methods were finished. The building of the final plane is now in progress and our first flight is scheduled mid July. According to current constructed parts and designs, our plane will weigh 2.5kg and will be able to carry a payload of 8 kg. Therefore it has a span of nearly 4m! Since the whole plane has to fit in a transportation box, these are four different parts of one meter. Connecting all this is quite a challenge if you know that one of the tests to fly with a certain payload consists of supporting the wings only on the outer edges while carrying the maximal payload.

Soon a test flight will follow and the final competition is from 8-12 August in Portugal. There will be 3 flights in which we have to fly a circular path. This to show that we are able to take off, manouvre and land our plane with the chosen payload.

With a payload of 8kg, we are aiming at a top 5 ranking out of the 31 participating teams.

We’ll keep you updated!

Jef, Bart, and the team.


Some pictures that the team have sent us :

Laser cut design of the connection part for the wings.

CADCAM design of the lightweight connection piece for the engine.

And the same part, now 3D printed...

The wings for the first time assembled.