Buckeye Vertical drone team flies to first place in national competition

Posted: June 9, 2022

The Ohio State University uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) team – Buckeye Vertical – soared to first place in the Vertical Flight Society’s national Design-Build-Vertical Fly collegiate competition. In recognition of their achievement, the 18-member team from the College of Engineering took home $2,000 in prize money.

Team photo
Team members at the competition included (l to r): Michael Valcarcel (structures subteam lead), Adithya Ramaswami (president), Shankar Kalavakolanu (design lead), Shubhank Gyawali (avionics subteam and flight test lead) and Jace Park (pilot and software lead). Credit: Vertical Flight Society

“This is an incredible milestone for the Buckeye Vertical team,” said Adithya Ramaswami, team president and aerospace engineering student. “This is our second year competing, and the team is excited to have won first place. It is a testament to all the hard work everyone has put in this past year.”

The annual remote-control, electric-powered vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) competition seeks to encourage student interest in uncrewed aircraft technology (also called drones) and small air vehicle design and fabrication. The event is also designed to help prepare the next generation of UAV engineers to push the limits of technology.

Second- and third-place winners were the University of Maryland and Pennsylvania State University, respectively.

The competition involved a series of qualifying events over the past academic year, culminating in the final fly-off June 1-2 at the U.S. Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory Robotics Research Collaboration Campus near Aberdeen, Maryland. Teams were challenged to build an eVTOL aircraft weighing no more than 15 pounds and capable of carrying a payload of at least two pounds. In addition, the aircraft had to be capable of flying the demanding competition manually and autonomously.

Team advisor Matt McCrink, research scientist at Ohio State’s Aerospace Research Center, said that the competition gives students the opportunity to design, build and ultimately fly vehicles representative of the state-of-the-art in the urban/advanced air mobility space.

“I believe that bringing a vehicle design from initial concept through flight test is one of the most impactful experiences a young engineer can have, and will ultimately give them the confidence to be leaders in this space.”

Team's drone in flight
The Buckeye Vertical aircraft in flight during competition. Credit: Vertical Flight Society

Ohio State’s team was comprised primarily of undergraduate students from a diverse range of engineering disciplines, including aerospace, mechanical, physics and electrical. Being further divided into two subteams – avionics and structures – allowed the Buckeyes to work on the aircraft in parallel and synergize outputs. The avionics subteam was responsible for developing the control system of the aircraft, while the structures subteam led design and fabrication of the aircraft frame. 

McCrink, who leads the university’s research to advance fundamental and applied UAV technology, was enthusiastic about the students’ achievement.

“I am enormously proud of the team and was elated to learn of their win at this year’s competition,” he said. “Aside from their victory, what is most impressive is the team-building infrastructure they have put in place to ensure continued success for years to come.”

Ramaswami said Buckeye Vertical has become more than just a competition team. It is also “a robust advanced air mobility student community at Ohio State that will continue to grow.”

“As engineering students, using what we learned in the classroom and taking an idea from concept to reality is a meaningful and impactful opportunity to further develop our skill sets and grow as leaders, entrepreneurs, visionaries and friends.”

The team is preparing for next year’s competition and will use the $2,000 prize money to help build their aircraft.

in collaboration with Holly Henley, Aerospace Research Center

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