As students arrive for the 2017/2018 academic year at Mexico’s CETYS University, the learning that takes place here is as easy to spot as the big yellow airplane suspended from the ceiling of the Thermo-Fluids Lab on the Mexicali campus. The remote-controlled airplane is the creation of two dozen engineering and science students who went to the university and learned how to make their ideas fly.
It started with a challenge; design and build a flyable airplane to compete in the SAE Collegiate Design Competition. The SAE has run the competition for 21-years with students from around the world participating. CETYS students built their first entry in 2011.
This spring, students from 75 schools including those in India, China, Poland and Egypt were represented on the airfield in Ft. Worth, Texas. Their planes had to be able to take off, land and meet specific payload criteria.
In an acknowledgement of what’s next in aviation, the engines would have to be electric and that payload had to include passengers, not just cargo. Teams would be judged on the plane’s lifting and flight abilities and the students’ ability to describe their creations. After all, the effectiveness of a product hinges on the ability to get the word out.
That’s okay, talking about the project came before starting the design process because the CETYS students had to fund it first.
“We have to do fundraising activities, we have to ask locals to donate,” said Meizhen Li, 22, who graduated this summer with a degree in mechanical engineering and administration. She said learning that part was hard but ultimately beneficial. “You have to learn to talk to companies,” she said.
The 2017 entry was supported by several large or well-known companies doing business in this area of the country including, UTC Aerospace Systems, PIMSA and Honeywell.
Baja, California a short drive from the border with the United States employs nearly 6,000 people in aerospace, according to Fernando Leon, the president of CETYS. During my visit he explained that with the aviation industry already thriving in Mexico, “many executives at those companies are CETYS graduates.”
From brainstorming to practical drone, building their entry touched many parts of modern aviation. But a 20 thousand dollar budget doesn’t allow for profligate spending. Staying within the budget required improvising and using the talent on hand.
Eduardo Medina, 22, working toward a computer science degree didn’t know much about airplanes when he was assigned to help create the website. But he was energized by his fellow team members and the fact that the work product was something he could touch; wood, metal, plastic was very different from working on computer projects. “Usually we don’t work with physical objects,” he told me.
Calling themselves the Fox Force, the team would have to conquer challenges and recover from inevitable failures. All in all, doing the same thing airplane builders have done since the Wright Brothers but collapsed into one short academic year.
Now with the 2018 Fox Force already on campus its a good bet some are already dreaming about what the 2018 entry will look like. But they are probably unaware of what Li, leader of the 2017 team already knows.
“You have to be able to work 24 hours a day without rest. You have to learn to go from the second you have it. In the competition if they want you to do something you have to do it with the tools we have, because the closest hobby shop is miles away,” she said.
Building a better airplane will improve the builders too.
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