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Emergency services experts and engineers are working to solve the problem of safely resupplying firefighters in forest fire zones, as the number of wildfires increases globally. Sending aircraft to deliver supplies is easier than ground vehicles, but it can be dangerous for pilots. To address this issue, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) challenged university students in the annual SAE Aero Design competition for the 2023-24 school year. Concordia University in Montreal sent a team to participate in the competition.

The team’s project focused on building two planes, one larger piloted aircraft with a camera to detect fires and drop a fixed-winged drone with cargo into the fire area, and a smaller powered autonomous delivery aircraft to deliver supplies to ground crews. The goal was to simulate safely bringing supplies to firefighting crews in a forest fire scenario. The students had to design and build a model plane and a model drone, then demonstrate how the system would work. In the advanced competition, the Concordia team placed second overall and won first place in the presentation category.

In addition to the advanced competition, Concordia University also had another team for the regular competition, which involved designing and building an aircraft to optimize requirements and score as many points as possible. The model plane had to take off within 100 feet and carry the heaviest load possible. This team placed third out of 34 teams. Both teams traveled to Lakeland, Fla., for the competition after spending months working on designing and building their planes. The students emphasized the valuable learning experience they gained from the competition, including teamwork and project management skills.

The SAE Aero Design competition, which has been running for decades, is not only a way for students to network and showcase their engineering skills, but it also helps industry find solutions to real-world problems. David Sander, community programs manager for SAE, highlights the competition’s role in preparing students for the challenges they will face as engineers. By participating in competitions like this, students are able to start thinking about and solving the numerous problems they will encounter in their engineering careers. Overall, the competition serves as a valuable learning experience for students and an opportunity for industry to discover innovative solutions to pressing issues.

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