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How RMIT students are making an impact in the aerospace world

From RMIT campuses in Melbourne to Silicon Valley in California, RMIT’s engineering students are making a big impact on the aerospace world.

Steph and the team at NASA Research Park, California. (supplied)

The GoFly Project is a $2 million competition sponsored by Boeing. Teams in the competition aim to build safe, quiet, ultra-compact, near-VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) personal aircraft capable of flying twenty miles while carrying a single person.

855 teams from across the globe entered the competition when it began in 2018. RMIT’s team was one of only 24 to progress to phase three, the final phase: a fly-off held in Silicon Valley.

Stephanie Astbury was one of four students who travelled to America for the project. She was brought into the project as a sole electrical engineering student.

Steph Astbury sitting in the team’s aircraft. (supplied)

“The proposed design for the competition was an all-electric aircraft,” Steph explained.

“My role in the team was to design, acquire and integrate the electric drivetrain required. My role further extended to fabrication of composite structures leading up to the fly-off.”

24-year-old Steph is in the final semester of her Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical Engineering) (Honours) degree. She will graduate in June.

“I’ve been converted to the aerospace field and plan to continue down this road,” she said.

“The dream at this point is to work for a manned electric aircraft manufacturer where I can be involved in both the composite structures and electrical systems design and production, and also have the opportunity to become a test pilot.”

In the meantime, Steph plans to complete a master’s degree in aerospace engineering, hopefully commencing semester two this year.

The GoFly competition is broken into three phases.

"In in order for the design and team to advance to the next phase, reports and data were required to be submitted to demonstrate the technological progress in creating a craft that adhered to the tough requirements outlined in the GoFly rules," Steph said.

Phase three, the Silicon Valley trip, was held in February this year. In the lead up to it, Steph and her team spent over 13 hours a day working on the project.

“The experience of spending 13-plus hours a day, six days a week in the lead up to this competition and absolutely loving every minute is the best reward in my opinion!”

RMIT’s representatives at the GoFly competition. (supplied)

There was no winner of the competition in Silicon Valley — but this isn’t a totally anti-climactic end to the story. The competition has been extended.

“It’s still open,” Steph said, adding that it was extended “due to the challenging requirements and teams being time limited, financially limited and technologically limited”.

“There was a required course that had to be flown and no teams in phase three could complete it. A lot, us included, were about 12 months off.”

Nevertheless, the RMIT design was highly praised for its efficiency and safety. Steph even received multiple job offers while in Silicon Valley.

The aircraft. (supplied)

“The competition itself opened many doors for me in the industry,” she said.

Now, Steph has begun managing a new group of five students who have taken on the competition as their final year project.

Over the next few weeks, she will organise her involvement in the project after she graduates.

“Beyond the life of the competition, this will be an educational project for many years,” Steph said.

“Right now, our craft is at the RMIT Bundoora East campus, providing a new group of final-year engineering students with their honours project. We already have, and will continue to get, incredibly beneficial data from this craft as the aerospace industry works towards personal manned flight.

“The project was and continues to be very successful. It has provided students with an incredibly valuable and unique experience to create a personal aircraft. An experience that I, at least, will never forget.”


Article: April Austen


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