For the latest news, events and announcements about UA, please visit

The new UA News Center features news channels specifically for students, faculty and staff, media and research. The UA News Center uses video, photography and narrative to tell the UA story to our various audiences. It also serves as a hub for finding information on campus resources and calendars. will remain in place temporarily as an archive, but will no longer be updated.

The University of Alabama

UA Engineering Students to Compete in Aircraft Contest

Aerospace engineering students, from left, Chris Cottingham, Daniel Groff and Derrick Talley prepare an aircraft for testing.

Aerospace engineering students, from left, Chris Cottingham, Daniel Groff and Derrick Talley prepare the aircraft for testing.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A team of University of Alabama students will travel to Wichita, Kan., to compete in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Student Design/Build Fly competition April 11-13.

Sponsored by Cessna Aircraft Co. and Raytheon Missile Systems, the contest asks collegiate teams to make small, electric-powered aircraft that can perform the tasks in the upcoming competition.

For the contest, the UA team built a plane made of balsa wood with dual propellers and engines and carbon-fiber landing gear. A red, translucent layer of MonoKote, a plastic shrink wrap, covers the exterior of the plane. The goal is to keep the plane lightweight and fast, said team co-captain Chris Cottingham, of Shreveport, La.

The competition consists of four tasks, called missions, which include three flights and a taxi of the plane. The first flight mission asks planes to fly as many laps on a course in four minutes as possible, and the second flight requires planes to fly the same course carrying as many 6-inch cubes as possible.

The third flight mission mimics a medical transport by asking the plane to ferry two patients and two attendants, represented by blocks of wood. For the taxi mission, the plane must drive on a 40-foot obstacle course made from roof paneling. The plane must stay on the course without flying over the obstacles.

The plane built by the engineering students is larger than in recent years with a 7-foot wingspan and measuring more than 4 feet from nose to tail. The plane weighs 8.2 pounds.

“The large size was chosen to accommodate the cargo for mission two and the patients and attendants in mission three,” Cottingham said. “The taxi mission led the team to create a tail-dragger design due to its excellent steering capabilities. The team chose dual wing mounted engines due to the electrical constraints enforced by the competition.”

The plane built by the student team is lightweight, made mostly of balsa wood and plastic shrink rap, but can carry up to 2 pounds of cargo.

The plane built by the student team is lightweight, made mostly of balsa wood and plastic wrap, but can carry the 2 pounds of cargo required in the contest.

The team is sponsored by the SGA and the Alabama Space Grant Consortium.

Dr. Thomas A. Zeiler, associate professor of aerospace engineering and mechanics, is the team’s adviser. Zeiler is the director for this senior design course and assists the team during production.

The AIAA is a professional society founded in 1963 for the purpose of advancing aerospace science, engineering, technology, operations and policy.

UA’s team consists of aerospace engineering majors:

  • Chris Cottingham (Captain), senior, from Shreveport, La.
  • Will Bowen (Captain), senior, from Madison
  • Corey Brown, senior, from Madison
  • Connor Burleson, sophomore, from Hoover
  • Chris Goodeaux, senior, from Missouri City, Texas
  • Daniel Groff, senior, from Tuscaloosa
  • David Gronstal, junior, from Belmont, N.C.
  • Jared Hammerton, sophomore, from Royersford, Pa.
  • Chris Heinert, senior from Huntsville
  • Jake Hunter, senior from Northport
  • Dylan Jaksich, junior, from Franklin, Tenn.
  • Greg Jenkins, sophomore, from Fayette
  • Justin Johnson, freshman, from Louisville, Ky.
  • Mallory McLemore, senior, from Hoover
  • Jackson Morris, junior, from Naperville, Ill.
  • Nick Morrison, senior, from Suwanee, Ga.
  • Chris Pierce, junior from Daphne
  • Noelle Ridlehuber, senior, from Simpsonville, S.C.
  • Robert See, senior, from Dallas, Texas
  • Derrick Talley, senior, from Birmingham
  • Griffin Uthe, sophomore, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s fully accredited College of Engineering has more than 4,500 students and more than 120 faculty. In the last eight years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz, Mitchell and Truman scholars.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.