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Cedarville engineering design team preparing for Mission to Mars competition

Mars is the Limit for Engineering Design Team

by Hannah Fair

A senior engineering design team will design, build and fly a remote control (RC) airplane capable of transporting supplies to “colonists” in the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International Aero Design East Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. The event takes place March 8-10, 2019.

Countries from around the world send their best to compete, and Cedarville University has repeatedly placed in the top five.

In March 2018, Cedarville earned the best ranking in school history with fourth place overall, second place in presentation and third place in drop accuracy. Georgia Tech University won first place, followed by Pontifical Catholic University (Rio De Janeiro, Brazil) and the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, Ohio), who beat Cedarville by just two points. The University of Michigan placed fifth.

Cedarville is primed to place in the top three for this upcoming competition. The competition is divided into three divisions: micro class, regular and advanced. 2019 will be the fourth year Cedarville participates in the advanced class of the competition.

— Tim Norman

In order to win the competition, the team must score well in their written report, presentation and their actual flying.

The mechanical engineering students taking part include Michaela Crouch (Akron, Ohio); Jonathan DuBois (Berea, Kentucky); Chase Gruet (Cedarville, Ohio); Auston Henninger (Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania); Victoria Holmes (Coal Grove, Ohio); Joshua Horne (Topsham, Maine); Wyatt Johnson (Woodstock, Illinois); Jared Klimek (Colorado Springs, Colorado); Kelsey McCabe (Butler County, Ohio); Abraham Melnick (Salem, Ohio); David Pitts (Greenville, Texas); and Travis Sheehan (Pickerington, Ohio).

The computer science majors on the team are Alex Crouch (Norwalk, Ohio); Spencer Graffunder (Bloomington, Minnesota); and Nathan Stahlnecker (Farmingdale, Maine). Electrical engineering major John Morimizu (Haverhill, Massachusetts) and the computer science students will create the autonomous guidance and control system that calculates wind, altitude and speed so the gliders land on target.

The advanced category has become much more difficult for 2019 because students must now design an RC plane capable of releasing gliders from 50-100 feet in the air with “colonists” (ping pong balls) to land on the target (which represents Mars). The plane must also deliver “habitats” (Nerf footballs) and water bottles to these “colonists.” In the 2018 competition, the airplane only had to drop a weight on the target.

“When we go to the competition, we represent Cedarville to schools from other countries such as China, India and Brazil,” said Holmes, team leader of the project. “This senior design project is not just an assignment, but a mode of representing Cedarville’s excellence.”

The team that successfully drops the most colonists, Nerf footballs and water bottles (without them breaking) wins the competition, because this colony would “survive” for the longest amount of time.

“This is the toughest collegiate airplane competition in the world, and we get to represent Cedarville among a lot of larger schools that have majors in aerospace engineering,” said Dr. Tim Norman, distinguished professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering. “This projects allows us to showcase the talent of our engineering students.”

Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 4,193 undergraduate, graduate, and online students in more than 150 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, strong graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings, and leading student satisfaction ratings. For more information about the University, visit

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