About the Competition

The Aerospace Engineering department annually hosts an aircraft design competition, the Bronze Propeller 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. 

What I cannot build, I cannot understand.

Competition Information

The 2024 Boeing Bronze Propeller Competition is to build and fly a small, efficient heavy-lift tanker airplane that can carry a specified payload. Read below for the mission definition and rules. 

High school, professional and undergraduate teams (non-AE628) must also complete the registration process. See the participation categories and registration tabs below. For further information, contact Dr. Laflin or Dr. Matheswaran.  

Competition Basis

Besides being attentive to traditional technical work, engineers must also consider public health, safety, and welfare in everything we do. Coincident with this aspect, we need to be mindful of global, cultural, social, environmental, and economic factors. Students often lose touch of the fact that "engineering is not done for its own sake, it is practiced in context" (McMasters & Cummings, AIAA Journal of Aircraft, Vol. 41, No. 1, January–February 2004). 

In summary, engineers need to be broadly aware, creating products of value. These expectations are an important part of the competition and a foundation for success as a professional engineer.

Mission Definition

For the 2024 Boeing Bronze Propeller competition, you need to design and build a vehicle that performs a challenging engineering task and has market value.

The vehicle to be designed, built, and flown must transport removable “tanks” containing liquid. The tanks are represented by two 20 oz. plastic Gatorade bottles. Further details on the payload are presented in the rules and requirements section. 

As part of the competition, each team needs to invent a context within which their vehicle has broad and ideally, marketable value. This supposed mission must be effectively explained in a well-written abstract. External judges will review and score the abstract prior to competition day by considering the following:

“Does the product have a favorable impact on?”

  • Community health
  • Public safety
  • Public well-being or prosperity
  • A world-wide scale
  • Different cultures
  • Lifestyles, occupations, religion, wealth, and educational attainment
  • The environment
  • The economy

To boost your competition score, you need to address as many of these values or marketability aspects as possible. Although, the “tanks” will contain water for the flight competition, you may assume the “tanks” contain any type of liquid you want to support your mission definition. Do a good job both inventing and communicating your mission. The abstract can be viewed as a “sales pitch” to secure approval/funding from your management, government agencies, or private investors. Your airplane configuration should support your mission definition. Some things to keep in mind: 1) know your competition – why is your product a better value, 2) investors expect a good return on investment – why will customers buy your product, 3) what is your target customer base. There are other considerations as well. Don’t limit yourselves. The “perceived value” score that you receive from the judges on your abstract will directly impact your competition score.

Rules and Requirements

There are some basic requirements. Specifically, the vehicle must: 

  • Fly within an indoor or outdoor area roughly the size of two basketball courts for at least two-minutes (be ready for high winds if outdoor).
  • Take-off from the ground under its own power. 
  • Take-off within 50 ft., measured from the initial power-on position to the point of last ground contact before successful 'climb-out.'
  • Securely carry two 20 oz. plastic Gatorade bottles (the “tanks”) (Note: Scoring flights do not require either bottle to contain fluid, but scores are highly dependent on the amount of water carried during a successful mission. See Scoring ),
  • Be capable of flying a “figure-eight” pattern,
  • Land safely.
  • On competition day, teams must use the bottles provided by event organizers for their mission flight attempts.
  • On competition day, 12 bottles of varying weights will be provided as mission payload choices: 2 empty bottles, 2 bottles containing water with each weighing ¼ lbs, 2 bottles containing water with each weighing ½ lbs, 2 bottles containing water with each weighing ¾ lbs, 2 bottles containing water with each weighing 1 lbs , and 2 bottles containing water with each weighing 1 ¼ lbs. Teams may choose any two of these 12 bottles as mission payload.
  • Teams must demonstrate that both bottles (“tanks”) can be loaded on to the airplane and securely restrained for flight within a 60 second time frame. 
  • teams must demonstrate that both bottles (“tanks”) can be unloaded off the airplane after transport within a 60 second time frame.

Additionally, the following rules apply:


  1. The aircraft must be 100% conceived, designed, and built by the team members.
  2. Teams are required to register and submit a mission description abstract by April 2nd (see Registration & Abstract section below).
  3. The vehicle must be a fixed-wing airplane (no rotorcraft, lighter-than-air, etc.).
  4. Only a WSU designated test pilot will fly the airplane.
  5. Payload bottles (“tanks”)  cannot be modified in any way.
  6. Non-empty payload bottles (“tanks”) can contain only water.
  7. All aircraft components and payload must remain attached during flight, or the flight will receive a score of zero.
  8. Flights of less than two minutes will receive a score of zero.
  9. If the team fails to install the payload within the allotted 60-second time frame, the flight attempt will receive a score of zero.
  10. If the team fails to retrieve the payload within the allotted 60-second time frame, the flight attempt will receive a score of zero.
  11. Flights resulting in an aircraft sustaining significant flight damage (see crash section below) will receive a score of zero.
  12. Aircraft can be repaired and flown again, as long as all rules are satisfied.
  13. Use of more than 2-inches of tape to secure or cover anything is prohibited.
  14. Critical systems and components must be firmly mounted and quickly accessible.
  15. Aircraft changes during the competition that deviate significantly from the initial design configuration are not permitted.
  16. No more than three servos or actuators are allowed.
  17. Only one electronic speed controller is allowed.
  18. All servos must be screw mounted (no Velcro, tape, wire, or adhesive mounting).
  19. Undergraduate teams have a $600 total budget to purchase all supplies for mockups, prototyping, and testing (e.g., raw materials, wood, components, motor, battery, servos, tooling, adhesives, etc.) Some material/components may be available from WSU, as announced in class.
  20. Accurate undergraduate team records and receipts are required and might be audited by competing teams.
  21. Battery packs must be off-the-shelf purchases, not built.
  22. Battery packs cannot be modified (only wire connectors can be changed).
  23. Battery changes to improve flight scores (see Scoring) on competition day is not allowed; teams can have multiple batteries ready for use, BUT all batteries must be identical (i.e., of the same manufacture, type, voltage, and milliamp-hrs).
  24. Teams assume all responsibilities in assuming servo, ESC, motor, etc. compatibility.
  25. Teams assume all responsibilities in assuring propellers properly mount to the motor.
  26. The plane’s wing-span is limited to a maximum of 36-inches.
  27. All undergraduate design teams must incorporate a WSU 3x4-ft wind tunnel mounting capability.
  28. The use of heat-shrink or tissue coverings is allowed.
  29. The use of foam by the team is limited to 72 cubic inches of raw material (i.e., before cutting and shaping).
  30. 3D printed PLA components are allowed if they print within a 2x2x2-inch volume.
  31. PLA is the only 3D printing material allowed.
  32. Planes cannot be flown unless all team members are in a designated safe area.
  33. There is no default or automatic win if there are three or fewer team category entries.
  34. Be sure to review all webpage sections regularly, especially the Q&A’s.
  35. In the spirit of the goals of the competition, all rules, requirements, constraints and scoring aspects are subject to interpretation and change by both Dr. Laflin and Dr. Matheswaran.
  36. Have fun!

ElectriFly Electric Speed Controls (ESC), E-Flite batteries, Great Planes Rimfire motors, and APC propellers are highly recommended. 

Participant Categories

There are three participant categories:

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

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

Teams with an alumni, past AE 628 student, 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 the designated faculty member for help finding a mentor, to borrow critical airplane components, work in a lab, and to secure supplies.


The following competition scoring equation applies:

Score = (1 + 16 * Wp) * AEF * PV  - 5 * P


  • Wp is payload weight in lbs (weight of total water carried)
  • AEF is the Aircraft Efficiency Factor and is defined as:

AEF= (We)-0.2631 * (1.1-Nm* 0.1) * (1.1 - Ns* 0.05) * (V * mAh/1000)-0.05

  • We is aircraft empty weight in lbs (take-off weight minus Wp)
  • Nm is total number of motors
  • Ns is total number of servos
  • V is manufacturer-rated voltage of the battery
  • mAh is manufacturer-rated milliamp-hours of the battery
  • PV is the product value, determined by the external judges’ review of the mission abstract (values range from 0.8 to 1.2 and are determined prior to competition flight day).
  • P is total number of penalties incurred by the team during the competition




Teams may conduct multiple flights to try to improve their score. The highest single-flight score will be the score of record. Note that the payload weight (Wp) is the only scoring element that can be varied on flight day to improve score.


Teams will be penalized if they significantly delay or adversely impact the competition. Specifically, a penalty will be given if:

  • The team, once it enters the flying area, fails to fly within 2-minutes for any reason
  • The plane leaves the designated flying area
  • The team, in any way, significant delays the competition

The team can scratch or abort a flight attempt before entering the flying area without a penalty. Be certain your plane is 1,000% ready to fly before you get into the flight area.

It’s critical to respect competitor plans for multiple flights during the event. Teams that significantly waste time will receive penalties or in severe cases disqualification.

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


A 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 penalty 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.

Hard landings, with damage, are very common. In such a case, a mission score will not be recorded unless the damage is minor. In this case, “minor” means the plane can be repaired to a flight-ready state in less than 10-min. Damage that requires more than 10-min to repair is significant (not minor).

Registration and Abstract Submissions

Teams are required to register for the competition and, at the same time, to submit their Mission Description Abstract. The process is easy, simply complete the form and email it to Dr. Laflin or Dr. Matheswaran. The deadline for this document is April 1st (no joke).

The Mission Description Abstract should specifically address elements discussed in the Background section. The abstract must fit within the allocated space on the form (with an unchanged 12-pt font and 1-inch margins).

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

Competition Day

Competition day is scheduled for 11:00 am - 4:00 pm Saturday, May 4th.

Teams, when they are totally ready to fly, can get into a queue. The team at the top of the queue will be invited to enter the flight area. The payload 'tanks' must be installed, the team members in a safe area, and the plane in the air within 2-minutes.

Teams can make multiple flights, in an effort to improve scores. However, as the competition progresses, teams with more than three flight scores may be asked to yield their spot in the queue to teams with fewer flights.

When two hours are left in the competition (at 2:00pm), teams without a successful scoring flight will be given flight-line priority.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What's preventing teams from simply copying and pasting (or adapting) a mission for a team last year? 
    Using or even slightly modifying previous mission ideas or abstracts is plagiarism and will result in a zero score or disqualification. (10/18/23)
  • Can teams make their own payload/tanks?
    No – the payload 'tanks' are supplied at the competition. (10/18/23)
  • Will the size and weight of the payload be checked?
    Yes – the payload each team wishes to carry will be weighed at the competition. (10/18/23)

  • Are subassemblies, like a premade wing with control surfaces installed, but not assembled to the fuselage allowed?
    No – subassemblies are not allowed. (10/18/23)
  • Will the flight environment (indoor vs. outdoor) be decided soon?
    The flight location, indoors or outdoors, will be announced in April 2024. (10/18/23)
  • Is the noted 72-cubic inch foam volume limit for a single part or all foam parts?
    Teams cannot use more than 72-cubic inches total of raw foam material to make vehicle parts. There is no limit on using foam for assembly tooling or jigs. (10/18/23)

Additional Information or Questions

Contact Dr. Laflin or Dr. Matheswaran, by email, with questions – kelly.laflin@wichita.edu ; vijay.matheswaran@wichita.edu 


Significant portions of this document are attributed to Dr. L Scott Miller and are taken verbatim from and/or inspired by past AE Senior Design project definitions.

Past (2023) Bronze Propeller Competition

The 2023 competition was for a small "marketable light delivery airplane."

Group Photo for 2023 Competition

2023 Competition Details

Mission Definition

For the 2023 Boeing Bronze Propeller competition, you need to design and build a vehicle that performs a challenging engineering task and has market value.

The engineering part of the competition is relatively simple. The vehicle needs to be light, quick to build, and drop a payload accurately.

Additionally, you need to invent a context within which your vehicle has broad and, ideally, marketable value. Then you have to effectively explain the mission in a well-written abstract. External judges will review and score the abstract prior to competition day by considering the following:

    “Does the product have a favorable impact on?”

  • community health
  • public safety
  • public well-being or prosperity
  • a world-wide scale
  • different cultures
  • lifestyles, occupations, religion, wealth, and educational attainment
  • the environment
  • the economy

To boost your competition score you need to address as many of these value or marketability aspects as possible. Do a good job both inventing and communicating your mission.

Competition Summary

The contest included:

  • 12 teams, 11 undergraduate and 1 professional
  • 81 flights or attempted flights
  • An average MAT of 72
  • An average PV of 5.3
  • An average Wo of 0.91 pounds
  • 5 planes with Wo less than 1.0 pound
  • 18 target HITS, by 5 teams
  • 2 teams had 6, or more, HITS each
  • The winning undergraduate team scored HITS on 60% of their flights
  • The winning professional scored HITS on 73% of their flights
  • 35 payload drops that missed the target
  • Only 2 penalties assessed
  • A great crowd, of faculty, staff, students, friends, and family

2023 Winners

This was an extremely challenging competition. The difficulty teams had hitting the target was not anticipated in the contest planning stage. Since we didn’t want to disqualify seven teams, both competition Score and HITS are considered. Hence, second and third-place ties are being awarded.

First Place Team

First Place Undergraduate: Team 3

Score=35.2      MAT=38, PV=5.8, W=0.56, P=0, & HITS=6

Comprised of (L-to-R):

  • Logan Mauch
  • Gabriel Kimuri
  • Alexander Dewerff
  • Trent Oberlander
  • Amanda Mudra
Second Place Team

Second Place Undergraduate (tie): Team 15

Score=34.3      MAT=19, PV=2.4, W=0.53, P=0, & HITS=0

Comprised of:

  • Robert Ross (with an old pizza box converted into a plane)
Third Place Team

Second Place Undergraduate (tie): Team 15

Score=21.2      MAT=39, PV =5.8, W=0.73, P=0, & HITS=2

Comprised of (L-to-R):

  • Benjamin Griffin
  • Megan Drake
  • Brycen Schroeder
  • Sofia Bahr Konkel
  • Jackson Caldwell
Team 5

Third Place Undergraduate (tie) - Team 5

Score=15.5      MAT=24, PV =6.0, W=1.13, P=1, & HITS=0

Comprised of (L-to-R):

  • Nathan Wahlstedt
  • Samuel Lindow
  • Kayla Wyrick
  • Nathaniel Richardson
  • Nathan Kulhanek
Team 10

Third Place Undergraduate (tie) - Team 10

Score=13.7      MAT=85, PV =5.9, W=0.76, P=0, & HITS=1

Comprised of (L-to-R):

  • Jared Fournier
  • Cade Mansfield
  • Kale Macormic
  • Cameron Cropper
First Place Professional Category

First Place Professional - Team 13

Score=41.9      MAT=58, PV =6.1, W=0.46, P=0, & HITS=8

Comprised of:

  • Julian Chee, a WSU AE Alum


2023 Support

Once again, Boeing was the competition sponsor.


The Boeing company logo.

The competition pilot

We would also like to thank:

  • Dean Anthony Muscat who served as the timer.
  • Dr. Buerge who weighed planes.
  • The AE lab staff got everything ready and helped (special recognition goes to Amanda, Megan, Joey, and Manny).
  • Jonathan Mowrey, the pilot, who is a WSU AE alum, Spirit employee and loyal friend of our program, students, and the university, as well as the “Best dang pilot in the solar system."