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April 2, 2002

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   Troy Anderson, (858) 822-3075 or


TLAR3, a radio-controlled composite airplane built by a team of University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Jacobs School of Engineering students, captured first place and $2,500 in the international design, build and fly competition hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). After finishing fourth and sixth in the last two outings, the team was delighted to capture the top spot with "TLAR3." The contest was held in Wichita, Kans. April 26 through 28.

Mechanical and aerospace students, all members of the university's AIAA chapter, conceptualized, designed and fabricated the customized plane. "Being involved in this project was one of the greatest experiences for me at UCSD," says Maziar Sefidan, project manager for this year's competition and a mechanical engineering senior. "This aircraft was 100 percent designed and constructed by students." According to Sefidan, he was able to apply theory learned in the classroom and get valuable hands-on experience that will come in handy after graduation.

Says John Kosmatka, professor of applied mechanics and team advisor: "The plane was made almost entirely of composite materials, which included a combination of carbon, fiberglass and foam, making it extremely lightweight at only 13.7 pounds, yet very resilient. The craft took about six months and many long nights to complete."

The propeller-driven plane, measuring five feet in length with a nearly seven-foot wingspan, had to weigh less than 55 pounds and take-off in less than 200 feet. Powered with over-the-counter nickel-cadmium batteries, TLAR3 was flown by a professional operator who had 10 minutes to navigate it through the designated course and earn points by meeting certain in-flight criteria, at times reaching speeds of 80 mph. Some laps required the student crew to load the fuselage with up to 24 softballs to gauge the plane’s performance under payload conditions.

This annual event provides a real-world aircraft design experience for engineering students by giving them the opportunity to validate their analytic studies. According to Kosmatka, "The goal is a balanced design possessing high vehicle performance, and practical and affordable manufacturing requirements. And that's just what these students accomplished."

TLAR3 finished ahead of 30 teams from all over the world, including those from Cal Poly, East Stroudsburg University, Georgia Tech, Istanbul Technical University (Turkey), La Sapienza (Italy), MIT, Queen's University, San Diego State University, UCLA, University of Illinois, University of Maryland, University of Texas, USC, and Virginia Tech.

In addition, the Jacobs School fielded a second team that also performed well with its "TLAR3.5" plane. "Our second team developed a flying wing that was one of the most innovative designs there, as well as the most risky. TLAR3.5 had an outstanding rated cost score and flew well, but unfortunately crashed during very windy conditions," explains Kosmatka.

The two teams were sponsored by the Silent Electric Flyers of San Diego, General Atomics, High Tech RCD, Corland Co., and the Jacobs School. The Silent Electric Flyers have donated hundreds of hours of free time and guidance to the students over the years. The group remains dedicated to the promotion of electric propulsion in all types of aeromodeling.

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