The Boeing company logo. 

(Last update: 12/3/19)

Group photo of 2019 Bronze Propeller Competition participants.


The WSU Aerospace Engineering department annually hosts an aircraft design competition.

The goal is to encourage involvement in a fun and educational activity. Competing teams design and build a small electric-powered aircraft to fly a challenging mission. Undergraduate winners get their names on the Bronze Propeller Trophy.

The eleventh annual Bronze Propeller competition will be held Saturday May 9, 2020. 


 Once again, The Boeing Company is teaming with WSU to support the 2020 event!


There are three participant categories:

  • WSU Undergraduate (1st Place $2,500, 2nd Place $1,500, & 3rd Place $500)
  • High School (1st Place $1,000, 2nd Place $500, & 3rd Place $250)* 
  • Professional (1st Place $1,000)* 

    * Note: Prize money is not automatically awarded when there are a small number of entries in a certain category.

Teams with an alumni or graduate student member must participate in the professional category. High school or undergraduate teams cannot elect to compete in the professional category (unless team members scored in the top-three in a previous competition).

A successful design is well understood, properly developed, and well-built from the beginning. Don’t let someone create a better overall design. Use aerospace engineering principles and methods to win!

Proper engineering is not about trial and error or playing around until you discover something that works. Employ engineering concepts and design to win! Also, don’t undervalue the beauty of simplicity within all your efforts!

Don't be shy. Form a team, build a plane, and fly! Mentors for high school and undergraduate student teams are recommended. Contact Dr. Miller for help finding a mentor, to borrow critical airplane components, work in a lab, and to secure supplies.



This year's design competition is for “A Storable Semi-Autonomous Emergency Supply Aircraft." The goal is to accurately deliver a significant amount of emergency supplies over the approximately 4-hour competition.

The aircraft’s mission profile includes the following: 

  • Preflight & Launch (5-minute time limit to complete)
    • Deliver the plane in its storage box
    • Extract and assemble the plane, with the payload installed
    • Pass a quick structural check
    • Hand launch the plane
  • Autonomously drop the payload after the 2nd lap in the target zone
  • Fly a total of at least 5-laps
  • Land successfully

There is a change from previous years. Specifically, you can and should plan to fly multiple times during the event. Results from each scoring flight add to increase your team’s final competition score.



All aircraft and participant categories must meet the following rules, requirements, and constraints:

The aircraft must be 100% conceived, designed, and built by team members

Teams are requested to register with contest organizers (see below)

The vehicle must be fixed-wing (rotary wing aircraft are not allowed)

The plane’s propulsion system is limited to using a single LiPo battery pack

Battery packs cannot be modified (only wire connectors can be changed)

A single, exposed, and easy to access fuse is required to safe the motor

The fuse must be located at least 6-inches from the propeller

Aircraft must be registered with the FAA prior to a first flight (download this document for related information)

Only a WSU designated test pilot will fly the plane

Aircraft employing autopilot systems are allowed (after safe mission demonstration using a human pilot)

The entire aircraft and payload must fit within a 11x7x36-inch storage box

The aircraft can use only one transmitter (TX) and one receiver (RX)

The payload is simulated using one or more unmodified regulation tennis balls

The payload must be autonomously released, without any human action

The autonomous payload release system can use a second dedicated battery

All aircraft components must remain attached during flight

Mission scores are not counted for aircraft sustaining significant flight damage

Aircraft can be repaired and flown again, as long as all rules are satisfied

Be sure to review all web page sections regularly, especially the Q&A’s

All competition rules, requirements, constraints, and award related aspects are subject to interpretation and change, at anytime, by Dr. Miller

There are no further requirements or constraints for Professional teams. High School and Undergraduate teams must also meet the following requirements and constraints: 

Aircraft must be made from commonly available model aircraft materials (e.g., balsa, basswood, spruce, foam, CoverLite) – nothing exotic

All source wood is constrained to 1/32, 1/16, or 3/32-inch thickness (nothing else)

Use of composite materials (e.g., graphite tubes or skins) is not allowed

Use of aluminum tubes (e.g., arrow shafts) is not allowed

Vacuum formed plastic nose cones or fairings are permitted

Standard metal or plastic off-the-shelf model airplane parts are permitted (e.g., links, hinges, bell-cranks, propellers, spinners, screws, etc.)

The only adhesives allowed are simple Cyanoacrylate(e.g., CA), Wood Glue (e.g., Elmer’s), or spray adhesive (e.g., 3M Super 77)

The use of Epoxy based adhesives is forbidden

Use of more that 12-inches of tape to secure or cover anything is prohibited

All critical systems/components/payloads must be firmly mounted and accessible for quick repair, replacement, or installation (e.g., less than 2-min)

Velcro may be used to secure only a battery, Electronic Speed Control (ESC), receiver (RX), and wires (nothing else)

The aircraft can use a maximum of 4-servos and a single ESC (no more)

The payload must be released from a permanent opening

Bomb-bay style doors, actuated openings, or fall-away panels are not allowed

Aircraft changes, during the competition, that deviate significantly from the initial design configuration are not permitted


Competition Day, Location, Flight Order, Preflight, & Drop Zone

The competition is tentatively planned for Saturday May 9, 2020, from 11am to 4pm. The location will be announced in the spring. Planes are expected to fly within an approximately 400x100-ft area at all times. The launch, landing, and drop zone is in the middle of the course, with turns approximately 300-ft apart.

Competition day flying is from an unprepared field (e.g., grass, rocks, or dirt) not from a pristine field or prepared hard-surface runway.

To assure fairness and a good pace of flying, a rotating preflight order will be used during the competition. In summary, team numbers will be called sequentially at roughly 10-min intervals. It will be each team’s responsibility to monitor the rotation and to respond immediately when it’s their turn. A team may elect to pass (i.e., scratch) on theiropportunity, but this must be done quickly and before starting preflight to avoid a penalty (strike). Teams that scratch have to wait a full rotation cycle for their number to be called again.

Teams entering preflight have 5-minutes to extract their plane from it’s storage box, assemble it, install the payload, pass a structural test (show the plane can be supported by just the wing tips without breaking), and launch. Exceeding the 5-minute time limit results in a penalty (i.e., at least a strike, maybe more).

The drop zone will be approximately 40x40-ft square and located roughly half-way between the turns. There will also be a smaller 20x20-foot square double-value zone contained within the bigger zone.


Scoring Equations

The mission score (MSCR) is calculated, when successful,using the following equation,                      

MSCR = NB (120/MT)4

NB is based on the number and location of tennis balls delivered in the target zone after the 2nd lap. Specifically, balls in the 40x40-foot zone, but outside the 20x20-foot zone, are single-valued. Balls in the 20x20-foot bonus zone are double-valued. For example:

NB = 6 if 2-balls land just outside the 20x20-foot zone (within the 40x40-foot zone) and if 2-balls land in the 20x20-foot zone

NB = 0 if no balls are placed in either drop zone

Balls that roll and come to rest in either drop zone can be counted (balls that roll out are not).

The Mission Time (MT), in seconds, starts the moment the plane is launched and ends when the plane comes to a stop after mission completion. The value is rounded to the nearest second.

A team’s final score (TSCR) is calculated as,


Where SIGMA(MSCR) is the sum of all successful mission scores and Ks is the total number of “outs” incurred by the team during the entire competition.

The team with the highest TSCR wins!


Strikes and Outs

A strike is given if:

A team fails to complete preflight and fly within a 5-minute window

A payload release occurs prior to completing the 2nd lap

The plane flies less than 5 complete laps (no score)

The plane leaves the designated flying area (mission aborted, no score)

A team, in any way, significant delays the competition (mission aborted, no score)

As in baseball, three strikes yield an out. There are no fractional values for outs (e.g., two strikes equal zero outs).

Be certain your plane is 100% ready to fly before you enter preflight. The team can scratch or abort a flight attempt before entering preflight without a strike penalty. A flight abort (or scratch) after entering preflight results in a strike.

Additionally, it’s critical to respect competitor plans to fly multiple times during the event. Therefore, it is critical that everyone avoid any time wasting. Such an offence will result in strikes or even (in severe cases) disqualification.

Obviously, you should avoid receiving outs at all cost. A good team effectively utilizes engineering principles, sound design methods, good construction techniques, and preparation to achieve mission success.



The sad reality is that crashes happen. However, keep in mind that many teams can quickly repair and fly their planes again. Never give up!

Teams that suffer a crash will not be assessed a strike unless they unduly delay the competition (e.g., take too long to recover their plane from the flying area). In some cases, teams may be required to wait to recover their crashed aircraft, for safety or other reasons.

Landing crashes are very common. In such a case, a crashed mission score will not be recorded unless it is minor. In this case, minor means the plane can be repaired to a flight ready state in less than 10-min.


Battery Packs

All competitors are required to use an unmodified commercially available LiPo battery pack for propulsion. Connectors can be changed, but nothing else. Another battery can be used to power, only, the autonomous payload release system.

A spare propulsion battery pack is allowed, but only one pack can power the plane in flight. A spare pack simply allows you to fly again while the other battery is charging.

Keep in mind that battery suppliers typically advertise performance for less than realistic conditions. Watch this site for available WSU battery pack test data. The data might prove useful during design, as you work to meet vehicle and mission performance goals. 



For high school and undergraduate teams, the AE department might be able to loan components to build planes. Here is basic information on the most commonly utilized Receiver (RX), Engine Speed Control (ESC), and servos systems:

RX – FrSky 8-Channel Receiver (click here for a link)

ESC - Great Planes Silver Series 25A Brushless ESC 5V/2A BEC (click here for a link) or equivalent

Servos – Futaba S3114 Micro High Torque Servo (click here for a link

There are other (riskier) options, but we typically have these recommended components available to use.


Payload Release System

Each team is responsible for designing and building their own autonomous payload release system. An additional battery can power the payload related system, but nothing else on the plane.

The payload cannot be released by the pilot, another person, or an off-board system. The payload must be delivered autonomously by only an onboard system.

Additionally, pilot maneuvers specifically intended to release, coax, or prompt payload release are not allowed and result in a strike and no mission score.


Competition Registration

Teams are requested to register for the competition. The process is easy, simply complete the attached form (click here) and email it to Dr. Miller (click here).

The intent of registration is to establish communications, to identify a likely number of participants, and to better assist off-campus participants (allocate mentors, etc.).

Please register as soon as possible. The registration deadline is April 1st (no joke).

Although we really want you to compete, there is no commitment associated with registering.


Department Support
 & Mentors

The planes are relatively inexpensive to build. Some teams may be eligible for limited AE department assistance to help build their plane (e.g., loaning motors, RX, ESC, servos, laser/foam cutting, etc.). However, support must be requested, prearranged, and approved at least 6-weeks before the competition.

Additionally, as mentioned, the department will do what it can to provide mentors to help less experienced teams. Contact Dr. Miller for further information on support and mentor opportunities.

WSU support is contingent on the viability of the team’s participation and the availability of components and mentors. Be sure to work with the AE department in a timely and organized fashion. Dr. Miller may request additional information from interested participants to make sure resources are allocated with the highest educational impact possible.


Competition Results

Preliminary results might be announced at the end of the competition day. However, if presented, the preliminary results are preliminary (not final). Final results are posted on the competition web page after a careful review of scoring, videos, etc.


Engineer of 2020

Eligible WSU students, especially seniors, might be able to earn “Engineer of 2020” service-learning credit serving as a mentor to underclassmen or high school teams. These opportunities must be prearranged. Contact Dr. Miller or Angela Blackerby (click here) for further information.



Visit this section regularly for official Questions and Answers (Q&A’s) thatcan have an impact on your design efforts.

Q1: Are we allowed to deploy the payload in an incapsulated body (e.g., a tube containing several tennis balls)?
A1: No, sorry, the tennis balls must be released independently. Tennis balls dropped in a container or connected together, essentially as a single mass, represent a potential safety hazard. (8/27/19)

Q2: Is the box for carrying and storing the aircraft provided, or does that have to be fabricated by the team? 
A2: We have a limited number of boxes in the lab, but I suggest making your own (cardboard is fine). (9/12/19)

Q3: Can we install a system/device on the ground near the target zone to activate ball release as the plane flies by after the 2nd lap?
A3: No, external systems or devices that activate ball release are not allowed. The payload must be released fully autonomously, by only onboard systems.  (9/12/19)

Q4: Can the payload be installed in the aircraft prior to assembly and while it’s in the storage box?
A4: Yes. (9/26/19)

Q5: Does the 4-servo limit apply to actuators as well?
A5: The plane is limited to a maximum of 4-servos for aircraft flight control (e.g., ailerons, elevator, rudder). Separate actuators for payload release are permitted. However, all payload release systems and components must operate autonomously. (9/26/19)

Q6:  Given the autonomous payload delivery requirement, what is the role of the pilot (if needed)?
A6:  The pilot’s role is do their best to assure flight safety, fly the course, and position the plane over the drop zone. (12/3/19)

Q7:  Can a team request that the pilot perform a specific flight maneuver or action to release the payload?
A7:  No. Very specific, out of the ordinary, pilot instructions necessary for payload release are not allowed. For example, asking the pilot to turn off the power, suddenly pitch up, or fly below an exact altitude to explicitly deploy the payload is not permitted. (12/3/19)

Q8:  Are basic pilot instructions permitted?
A8:  Yes, but there are limits. The pilot can be asked, for example, to (1) speed up or slow down or (2) fly low or fly high. Very specific, special, out of the ordinary pilot instructions are not allowed. (12/3/19)

Q9:  How do I know if a basic pilot instruction is truly basic?
A9:  The guideline is that the pilot can ignore a basic instruction and the payload will still be released autonomously. (12/3/19)

Remember to check this area regularly! Contact Dr. Miller, by email, with questions -


Special Thanks

Special thanks go to WSU alumni and friends who provided ideas and suggestions for this year’s competition. Obviously, we are extremely appreciative of TheBoeing Company’s support. Their investment in young engineers is important and most welcome!


Additional Information

Contact Dr. Miller, by email, with questions -

Here is a Bronze Propeller competition flyer you can print, post, and share (click here).             


"What I cannot build, I cannot understand" - Feynman 


Visit this page often - don't miss important competition information, Q&A's, and news!  



Information from the 2019 Event

The 2019 Boeing/WSU Aerospace Engineering Bronze Propeller Competition is history!  May 11th 2019 was an amazing day with near perfect weather. The mission, once again, proved challenging. Here is a final summary of results.


First Place - WSU Team 3 with 4.59 points

Second Place – WSU Team 21 with 2.73 points

Third Place – WSU Team 5 with 1.21 points

WSU Undergraduate:

First Place - Team 3 with 4.59 points

Second Place – Team 21 with 2.73 points

Third Place – Team 5 with 1.21 points

High School:

First Place - Team 20 with 0.57 points




A photo of the winning team and plane.

First Place Overall – Team 3
Joshua Lynn, Yau Chan, Jack Watson, & Austin Hunt



A photo of the second place team and airplane.

Second Place – Team 21
Abbas Qamar, Jeffrey Briggs, Chris Trevino, Kyle Wetter, & Yasaman (Jasmine) Taheri



A photo of the third place team and airplane.

Third Place – Team 5
Samadini Arachchilage, Rameesha Wijerathne, Virajitha Ethige, & Chimuka Cheepa



Photo of First Place High School team and mentor.

First Place High School – Team 20
Mathew Moses & WSU mentor Joseph Moses



Special mention goes to the underclassmen of Team 12. They made a competitive aircraft that flew nicely and had lots of potential. (Unfortunately, the plane suffered an inflight structural failure on it's second flight. With a little more academic and engineering experience, I’m certain their next plane will be fine.)

Photo of special mention team and plane.

Special Mention – Team 12
Spencer Lueckenotto, John Randall, & William Valentine



Photo of competition pilot.

Jonathan Mowrey - An amazing pilot and Shocker friend!


Photo of the first flight of the event.

A special moment in time - Team 11 takes to the air for the first time in 2019.


Additional Information

Contact Dr. Miller, by email, with questions -