College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

AirISU: The building of an airplane

AirISU is a student club with a lofty goal—build and fly a light-sport airplane. It’s a highly complex task, but a visit to Room 0618 in Howe Hall shows that the aircraft is taking shape after six years of hard work.

AirISU was established in 2004 with the goal of designing and building an airplane entirely from scratch. With limited funding and materials, however, progress was slow. In spring of 2008, the club decided to hand over the design work to AerE senior design projects and focus efforts on building a Zodiac 650 XL from a structure kit donated by the Zenith Aircraft Company.

Over the last two years, the club has made a lot of progress thanks to the enthusiasm of the members, according to AirISU president Scott Hamilton, AerE4. “We have 10–15 regular student members at our meetings, and sometimes it gets crowded in the work area, but so far it has worked. The opportunity to actually build an airplane is unique,” says Hamilton, who joined the club as a sophomore and will graduate this spring. “It’s a great hands-on learning experience, and it’s been really fun for me to see all of the systems and components that go into an airplane and what it takes to actually get one to fly.”

Early this past winter, it appeared AirISU was on track to move the aircraft to the Ames airport for final assembly this spring. The wings had been completed by early fall and major progress had been made on the fuselage including hanging the engine on the fuselage and affixing the fiberglass cowling around it as well as fitting the hard Plexiglas canopy to the shape of the cockpit.

Unfortunately a problem with the original kit that causes a flutter issue in the wings was recently discovered. The modification kit that has been issued to fix the problem requires the wings to be totally taken apart and reconstructed with some additional structural components. While this has pushed the targeted completion date back one year to spring of 2011, the club members say it will give the new members experience constructing the wings.

In the meantime, AirISU has entered the plane in the 2010 Veishea parade. To move it out of Howe Hall, the tail sections and main landing gear will have to be removed from the fuselage and later reattached. The overhead crane in Howe Hall will be used to lift the aircraft to the ground level, and from there it will be moved to the loading dock and rolled to the parade start.

While getting the plane to the parade will be a painstaking task, Hamilton says it will be worthwhile. “This will be the first time that AirISU has been able to showcase its accomplishments, and hopefully we will see a rise in interest in experimental aircraft both on and off campus,” he says. “It is a great opportunity for us to attract new members for fall semester and potentially new sponsors.”

Sponsors, Hamilton notes, have played a key role in helping AirISU toward their goal. Zenith Aircraft Company donated the kit plane, and the family of Robert Dahl donated a Jabiru 3300 aircraft engine and propeller kit. Additional donations have enabled the club to purchase electronics and flight instruments that are vital to being able to fly the plane. (Sponsorship information)