Engineering Students Competed in the 4th Annual VFS Design-Build-Vertical Flight Competition

POSTED ON: May 17, 2024

Students working on their design.

Left to right: Benjamin Meiner, Calder Leppitsch, and Levi Sheridan working on their VFS design.

Mechanical engineering seniors Benjamin Meiner, Ariel Tamayev, Calder Leppitsch, and Levi Sheridan from The Cooper Union participated in the Vertical Flight Society’s (VFS) 4th Annual Design-Build-Vertical Flight (DBVF) Competition held in Churchville, Maryland.

The Vertical Flight Society is the world's oldest and largest technical society dedicated to advancing vertical flight technology. This year's DBVF competition featured nine teams from an original pool of sixteen that entered in October. These teams showcased a diverse array of innovative aircraft designs during the event.

The DBVF competition tasked university teams with several deliverables throughout the year, including a comprehensive technical report, an on-site team presentation, a manually piloted flight performance course, and a fully autonomous flight course. The initial sixteen teams hailed from universities across the United States, as well as from Malaysia, India, and Canada. The primary objective was to design a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that could operate both manually and autonomously, with a maximum weight of 20 pounds and fitting within a 10-foot sphere. During the competition, teams aimed to complete the most laps around the course while carrying as much payload as possible.

“I really enjoyed seeing a culmination of a year of our hard work during the competition and I am looking forward to seeing how future Cooper students tackle this problem and build on the work we have done" said Benjamin Meiner ME’24.

While The Cooper Union team encountered several challenges during the competition, they demonstrated resilience and teamwork. The day before the competition, a test flight mishap occurred when the motors were accidentally switched, causing the aircraft to flip and sustain damage. The team promptly repaired the aircraft using epoxy. Further issues arose during the competition checks, where the aircraft was found to be overweight, necessitating the removal of non-essential components. During the first hover test, the plane exhibited initial stability but then experienced motor cut-outs, leading to a crash. Upon inspection, the team discovered hot wires, indicating a short circuit or poor wiring. After troubleshooting and resoldering connections, the plane was prepared for another hover test. Unfortunately, the final hover test ended with the aircraft crashing due to uncontrollable oscillations.

"The challenges we faced helped us grow both as individuals and as a team. Each member brought their unique skills and perspectives, and it was inspiring to see how we could combine our strengths to overcome these obstacles," Meiner added. 

Despite not completing the course, the Cooper team gained invaluable experience and insights from participating in the DBVF competition. 

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.