AirISU completes its first plane, looks ahead to next project

After six years of hard work, challenges, and unforeseen time delays, AirISU has finally come to the end of the club’s first building project—a two-passenger, light sport aircraft.

The group was established as an Iowa State student organization in 2004 with plans to design and build a plane from scratch. In 2006, the students decided to shift their focus to building a kit plane to improve the club’s understanding of light sport aircraft, so they began constructing a Zodiac 601 XL kit donated from Zenith Aircraft Company in Mexico, Missouri.

Now, with the plane completely assembled, the club is pausing to relish their accomplishments before determining what lies ahead.

Countless students have worked diligently on the project, with more help coming each year as the club’s membership increases. This year, AirISU saw it’s largest group of members, more than 30, comprised mainly of aerospace engineering students. But Brandon Peters (BSAerE’11), former AirISU president, says the club attracted students from several departments on campus, such as mechanical engineering, computer engineering, information technology, industrial technology, and even one curious vet-med student.

2011-2012 AirISU

The diverse group met weekly in Howe Hall and was split into specialized teams to assemble the airplane’s wings, controls, fuselage, engine, avionics, and electronics. With this setup, students were able to contribute their personal skills and assets to the build process.

“Typical meetings consisted of all of us gathering in the shop to work on the airplane, whether it was riveting, bolting things together, or looking at plans to see what the next step would be,” explains Peters.

Brandon Peters

Over the years, the club has run into a few challenges that turned their four-year construction plan into a six-year plan. In 2010, Zenith informed the group there was a flutter issue in the wings, causing them to deconstruct the wings and start from scratch with a modification kit. As a result, the students moved their end date back one year, which would eventually be moved back once again to 2012.

“Time was definitely one of the biggest obstacles we faced over the last six years,” says Peters. “I don’t think anybody anticipated how long it actually takes to build something of this size.”

AirISU worked consistently throughout the two additional years, while also garnering some support from outside the college. Build adviser Wayne Bausch, a local aviation expert who has years of experience building, flying, and inspecting aircraft, helped oversee the students’ progress and provided insight into building the plane and interpreting plans.

To implement the group’s graphics ideas for the plane, they recruited Justin Scavo, senior in graphic design and aerospace engineering student employee . “We wanted the graphics on our plane to incorporate a Cyclone, which would convey power, speed, ingenuity, and creativity,” explains Peters.

Scavo turned AirISU’s concepts into graphic decals that were later applied by Chase Signs & Graphics.

“With the extra help of Wayne, Justin, and Chase Graphics, we made major progress in a short time,” Peters says. The group completed the plane before the 2012 Veishea parade, where AirISU received third in the non-traditional float category.

AirISU's plane as of November 2011

Once the plane was assembled, AirISU realized it had outgrown its Howe Hall location, so the team moved the plane to the Ames airport for final touches. Getting it to the airport meant disassembling the wings, which will be added again, along with the fuel lines and control cables, before the group applies for certification.

Following certification, the plane will be ready for its first flight. AirISU plans to create an event or ribbon cutting to showcase years of hard work and the plane’s first flight.

“I imagine Wayne will be the first to fly it, hopefully allowing each student who worked on it to get a ride. We also have one student member who has his pilot’s license, so he and anyone else in AirISU who receives a license between now and the first flight should be able to fly it as well,” explains Peters.

Looking ahead, the group has discussed changing the direction of AirISU, moving away from building kit planes to working on other aerial-related design projects.

“Basically, we realized the scale of assembling kit planes is much too large for a university project,” says Peters. “We just don’t have the space or resources to construct them in a reasonable amount of time.”

While nothing will be officially decided until students return in the fall, one option the group has discussed is to work on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, a direction Peters hopes to see the club pursue.

One thing the group will have to consider is how to fund a new project. “AirISU may have to sell some of the components of the current plane, which may be one of the best ways to quickly get funding,” Peters explains, adding that he hopes the group can keep the plane around for a couple years and show it off.

In the meantime, AirISU wants to take the plane to the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisc., an annual event where aviation enthusiasts showcase their planes—a perfect way to highlight the years of work, and possibly the end the plane’s career.


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