Georgia Team Wins 2020 GAMA Aviation Design Challenge

The winning X-Plane design in the 2020 GAMA Aviation Design Challenge had modifications to a Glasair Sportsman including an increased wingspan, winglets, and retractable gear. Courtesy GAMA

Now in its eighth year, the 2020 GAMA Aviation Design Challenge offered student teams from more than 80 high schools spanning 35 states the challenge of applying their knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to make performance modifications to a Glasair Sportsman airplane using the Plane Maker program inside the X-Plane flight simulator software package. When the judging was complete, Riverwood International Charter School in Sandy Springs, Georgia, was named the winner, with a team from Harkness Career and Technical Center in Cheektowaga, New York, as the second-place winner.

Members of the first-place Riverwood team included Coleman Alvarez, Lucas Daniels, and Jessica Keen. Their design included a substantially increased wingspan, winglets, retractable gear, and two additional propeller blades. This was the school’s first time participating in the challenge.

“As we have been each of the eight years of our Aviation Design Challenge, we are extremely proud of our winners as well as all the schools who submitted entries,” said Pete Bunce, GAMA president and CEO. “The COVID-19 pandemic created unforeseen and difficult challenges for the students and teachers, and we were impressed with the innovative approaches teams took to collaborate virtually and finish the competition. We look forward to rewarding our winners with unique aviation experiences in the coming weeks that will continue to promote the importance of Aerospace STEM education as well as expose these young people to the vast opportunities that await them in aviation.”

The winning Riverwood team will receive a one-of-a-kind general aviation experience including a tour of Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation; demonstration flights by Cirrus Aircraft; a tour of a Signature Flight Support FBO; and virtual experiences including live demonstrations and career panel discussions presented by Dassault Falcon, ForeFlight and Garmin.

During the first part of the challenge, teams used complimentary “Fly to Learn” curriculum to learn the principles of flight and airplane design, which is developed in alignment with national STEM standards. During the second portion of the competition, teams apply their knowledge to modify an airplane design and complete a mission in a virtual fly-off using X-Plane software. Judges score the teams based on performance parameters, a checklist of steps involved in the demonstration flight and a video submission in which the team summarized what they learned.

“Jessica, Coleman, and Lucas all strived to expand their knowledge base from the day we started, working tirelessly to learn new and challenging material,” said John Friske, the Riverwood International Charter School team’s instructor. “They embraced the Design Thinking Process and Engineering Design Process that I teach and did everything that I asked of them with a smile and a positive attitude. It was so much fun watching them have a blast creating everything from a supersonic prop-driven rocket to a 300-foot wingspan Sportsman that we couldn’t even get to stall! I couldn’t be more proud of them!”

Members of the second-place team from Harkness Career and Technical Center include Madison Baer, Vincenzo Ciffa, Anthony Mathewson, Nate Pajak, Jacob Robinson, Andrew Schlabach, Olivia Thornton, and Gavin Wieszala. The team was taught by Aviation Design Challenge veteran Thomas Leach. Their entry included redesigning the fuselage of their aircraft, increasing the propeller diameter, converting to a taildragger, increasing the span and aspect ratio, adding speed brakes and increasing flap deflection. Harkness Career and Technical Center has placed in the top of the challenge for the last three years, including winning the 2018 challenge. They will receive a two-day Redbird Flight Simulations STEM Lab Camp.

“The students in the Aviation Technology class at Harkness Career & Tech Center in New York State worked through some interesting and challenging times this year which were different than any other,” said Thomas Leach, the teacher of the team from Harkness Career and Technical Center. “They started the challenge in the classroom and, with school closing in early March, switched to online instruction. Some transitioned well to work from home as teams and continued to figure out how to work together to finish the challenge strong.”

The 2020 GAMA Aviation Design Challenge sponsoring companies include Bombardier Business Aircraft, Cirrus Aircraft, Dassault Falcon, Embraer, ForeFlight, Garmin, Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, Hartzell Propeller, Redbird Flight Simulations, Signature Flight Support, Textron Aviation, and Wipaire. Sponsors provide financial support for the prizes as well as in-kind donations.

Dan Pimentel is an instrument-rated private pilot and former airplane owner who has been flying since 1996. As an aviation journalist and photographer, he has covered all aspects of the general and business aviation communities for a long list of major aviation magazines, newspapers and websites. He has never met a flying machine that he didn’t like, and has written about his love of aviation for years on his Airplanista blog. For 10 years until 2019, he hosted the popular ‘Oshbash’ social media meetup events at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

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