SAE Aero Design soars to new heights at national competition

May 28, 2014
SAE Aero Design Team
SAE Aero Design Team

PLATTEVILLE, Wis.­­­ — Five University of Wisconsin-Platteville students recently took to the sky in the 2014 Society of Automotive Engineers Aero Design Series in Fort Worth, Texas, with their hand-built and originally designed remote-controlled airplane. More than 75 collegiate teams from across the nation and from five countries were present at the competition, and UW-Platteville placed fourth among 33 teams in its division. The UW-Platteville team was the smallest in the competition and one of few that didn’t have an aeronautical engineering program as part of its university’s offered majors.

The team is comprised of eight mechanical engineering majors: Andrew Gunderson from Fond du Lac, Wis.; Matthew Groshek, from Stevens Point, Wis.; Tyler Doupe, from Appleton, Wis.; Nick Manderino, from Aurora, Ill.; Caleb Johnson, from Marinette, Wis.; Steve Jaecks from Wausau, Wis.; Reid Springer from Peshtigo, Wis.; and Parker VandeVoort from Appleton, Wis. Gunderson, Groshek, Doupe, Johnson and VandeVoort represented the team at the competition.   

“I liked being a part of an actual design project,” said Johnson. “It seemed like real life, like real-world experience.”

Team members design aircraft structures and aerodynamics to build an airplane that can lift a large amount of payload with the lightest and strongest possible structure. The UW-Platteville Aero Team plane had the second highest payload weight in the competition of 16.5 pounds, which is more than double the weight of the plane. The team also had the only round fuselage design in the competition, which allowed the plane to be more aerodynamic and look more visually appealing.

The team spent hundreds of hours in the design and build phases of the competition, utilizing their own research and the UW-Platteville physics lab capabilities in order to produce laser-cut parts for their plane. These laser-cut parts allowed the team to build more complex shapes that would have been extremely difficult to make by hand. Because of it, the team was able to produce the plane’s complex wing design and also its round fuselage.

“I was looking up how to do things in the library because it has a really large section on aero design,” said Gunderson. “I’m also a real world pilot and so I had a working knowledge of aerodynamics.”

The build process was not without its challenges, especially the tight deadlines the team had to work with. They didn’t have time to do a test flight before the competition, making the first flight of competition rounds the first time the plane had ever been in the air.

“Our plane flew perfectly, and it didn’t crash, unlike all the other planes which crashed at least once,” said Groshek. “We had a well-built-plane.”

“The hundreds of hours of work that we put into the design and the build had a lot to do with our fourth place finish,” said Doupe.

The majority of team members joined the team in order to gain the hands-on real world experience offered by clubs such as SAE.

“As an engineer, you get most of your design experience through these clubs,” said Gunderson. “It’s definitely an advantage of going to UW-Platteville.”

The SAE Aero Design Team was reactivated last year by Doupe after almost 10 years of inactivity. Last year’s team placed 22nd out of 34 teams.

Contact: Tyler Doupe, SAE Aero Design Team captain,

Written by: Angela O’Brien, UW-Platteville University Information and Communications, (608) 342-1194,


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