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 below is based on the 2023 Bronze Propeller Competition. Check back for more information on the 2024 Bronze Propeller Competition, which will likely be posted in August 2023.

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.

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.

Requirements and Rules

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).
  • Drop a surrogate payload on a small target.

  • Land safely.

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 1st (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 plane.
  5. All aircraft components must remain attached during flight.
  6. Planes will can carry only a single surrogate payload (no more than one).
  7. The surrogate payload will be a roughly 3x3x1 inch 1.5 ounce bean bag.
  8. The surrogate payload cannot be modified or damaged.
  9. The target zone will be around 4x4-feet in size.
  10. Payloads must come to a rest within the target zone to count as a hit.
  11. Payload release must be controlled by the pilot.
  12. Drops can take place anytime within a two-minute window after takeoff. 
  13. Hits for flights of less than two-minutes will not count in the score.
  14. Mission scores are not counted for aircraft sustaining significant flight damage (see crash section below).
  15. Aircraft can be repaired and flown again, as long as all rules are satisfied.
  16. Use of more than two-inches of tape to secure or cover anything is prohibited.
  17. Critical systems and components must be firmly mounted and quickly accessible.
  18. Aircraft changes during the competition that deviate significantly from the initial design configuration are not permitted.
  19. No more than three servos or actuators are allowed.
  20. Only one electronic speed controller is allowed.
  21. All servos must be screw mounted (no Velcro, tape, wire, or adhesive mounting).
  22. 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.).
  23. Accurate undergraduate team records and receipts are required and might be audited, by competing teams.
  24. The only WSU supplied items will be the required FrSky receiver (RX) and surrogate payload (nothing else).
  25. Receiver (RX) selection is restricted to an FrSky X8R (while supplies last).
  26. WSU will share FrSky X7 Taranis transmitters (TX), at no cost (while supplies last).
  27. Battery packs must be off-the-shelf purchases, not built.
  28. Battery packs cannot be modified (only wire connectors can be changed).
  29. ElectriFly Electric Speed Controls (ESC), E-Flite batteries, Great Planes Rimfire motors, and APC propellers are highly recommended.
  30. Teams assume all responsibilities in assuring servo, ESC, and motor compatibility, including with the RX.
  31. Teams assume all responsibilities in assuring propellers properly mount to the motor.
  32. The plane’s wing span is limited to a maximum of 36-inches.
  33. All undergraduate design teamsmust incorporate a 3x4-ft wind tunnel mounting capability.
  34. The use of cardboard is allowed.
  35. The use of heat shrink or tissue coverings is allowed.
  36. Foam use, for any vehicle component, is limited to less than 72-cubic inches of raw material (i.e., before cutting or shaping). Please see the FAQ section.
  37. 3D printed PLA components are allowed, if they print within a 2x2x2-inch volume.
  38. PLA is the only 3D printing material allowed.
  39. Planes cannot be launched or flown unless all team members are in a designated safe area.
  40. There is no default or automatic win if there are three or fewer team category entries.
  41. Be sure to review all webpage sections regularly, especially the FAQs.
  42. All rules, requirements, constraints, and award related aspects are subject to interpretation and change at any time by the designated faculty member.

NOTE: In a worst-case scenario (e.g., COVID-19 shutdown), teams are expected to complete verifiable vehicle construction and flight demonstrations off-campus and on their own. Details will be supplied if needed.


The following competition scoring equation applies:

               Score = [PV + (300/MAT) + HITS - P] /Wo


  • PV is the product value, determined by the external judges review of your mission abstract (a maximum of 8-points)
  • MAT is the manufacturing assembly time, in minutes, it took to assemble a flight-ready vehicle (rounded to the lowest minute)
  • HITS is the total number of payloads dropped on target during competition flight day
  • P is the total number of penalties incurred by the team during the competition
  • Wo is the competition flight-ready vehicle weight, with the payload installed, in pounds

PV and MAT values are obtained prior to competition fight day. Wo is measured just before a competition flight.

The manufacturing assembly time of your vehicle strongly relates to many favorable attributes. For example, a fast to assemble vehicle will likely be:

  • Optimized for simplicity
  • Overall less expensive
  • More reliable
  • Easier to mass produce

Manufacturing assembly time, in this event, includes only the time it takes to put the many vehicle parts together. The time it takes to make (e.g., laser cut) each vehicle part is not counted. Assembly time is different from the overall manufacturing time.

The following assembly related exceptions and restrictions apply:

  • The team can lay out and organize all parts, bits, pieces, tools, and adhesives prior to assembly timer start
  • Electronic components can be prepared for assembly (e.g., connectors can already be installed, wire harnesses can be pre-made) – but not installed or fully assembled
  • 3D printed, vacuum formed, or foam parts can be premade
  • Assembly related jigs or tooling can be premade and ready to use as well
  • Teams are restricted to an approximately 4x4-foot work area
  • Adhesive drying time is included in the assembly time
  • The team must video record the entire assembly process
  • Once the team is ready, a timer will start
  • The timer will stop only when the team demonstrates a flight-ready vehicle (i.e., with operational control and propulsion systems)
  • Non-WSU teams will have to submit a video verifying the defined assembly time

Prototyping, mockups, and other related efforts prior to the timed assembly are allowed. However, associated material and item costs must be included in the team budget.


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 (2023 example) and email it to the designated faculty member. 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

(In 2023, the competition day was scheduled for 11:00 am - 4:00 pm Saturday, May 6th in the Heskett Center basketball courts. Follow this link for an interactive map.)

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 payloads 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.

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. Teams are strongly encouraged to avoid pandemic and health care-related missions. Be creative and come up with your own valuable and new mission! (8/25/22)
  • Can teams make their surrogate payload?
    No – the surrogate payload is supplied at the competition. (8/25/22)
  • Will the size and weight of the surrogate payload be checked?
    Yes – the surrogate payload is supplied at the competition. (8/25/22)
  • Can we fold the bean bag to fit it inside the aircraft?
    Yes – the surrogate payload can be folded as long as it is not modified or damaged. (8/25/22)
  • Does manufacturing assembly time include things like the attachment of every servo, control rod/horn/hinge, stringers, frames, spars, skins, etc.?
    Yes – MAT must include the time to assemble all of the individual components. Exceptions are noted in the Scoring section. (8/25/22)
  • Are subassemblies, like a premade wing with control surfaces installed, but not assembled to the fuselage allowed?
    No – subassemblies are not allowed. (8/25/22)
  • Will the flight environment (indoor vs. outdoor) be decided soon?
    The flight location, indoors or outdoors, will be announced near competition day and is subject to last-minute changes, especially due to weather conditions. (8/25/22)
  • 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. (9/19/22)
  • Is the use of an E-flite “servoless” payload release or similar unit allowed?
    Yes, but there are at least two issues to consider. First, it must be included within the total servo count. I know E-flite calls it a servoless design, but it plugs into the receiver and operates similarly to a servo. Second, note that a small part is released with the payload. This part loss violates competition rules. The only thing that can separate from the plane is the payload. (9/27/22)
  • Can you tell me more about the target? Is it an object or simply a marked zone? Also, what kind of surface does it enclose?
    The target zone, if outside, will be on the ground (i.e., dirt or grass) and likely marked using construction ribbon and stakes. The target zone, if inside, will likely be a simple frame less than an inch high secured to the floor. (10/24/22)
  • Where will the target be positioned within the flying zone, and can it be moved as desired by a team?
    The target will be placed somewhere near the middle of the flying zone. No, the target cannot be moved by a team. (10/24/22)

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."