Black Lightening


"Black Lightening" was designed to compete in the 2005/2006 AIAA/Cessna/ONR Design/Build/Fly contest, held in Wichita, KS in April of 2006.  The aircraft was optimized to perform a combination of Cargo Flexibility, and Minimum RAC missions.  In the cargo flexibility mission, aircraft are alternately loaded with 48 tennis balls, 4 Liters of water, and a 4inx4inx24in wood block as fast as possible.  The minimum RAC mission required the aircraft to fly 96 tennis balls around a prescribed course.  Flight score for this mission was entirely based on having the lowest empty weight possible.  Black Lightening was named in recognition of the extreme measures taken by the Black team in lightening the airplane since score was strongly related to having a light airplane.  Black Lightening was the lightest plane at the contest and also finished in first place overall.

Specification List: 


  • Wing​span:        7.33 ft
  • Wing Area:       6.72 sq ft
  • Aspect Ratio:   8
  • Airfoil:              Eppler 560  


  • Length:        3.92 ft
  • Width:         6.5 in
  • Height:        9.13 in


  • Motor:          Neu 1506/3Y Geared 5.2:1
  • Controller:    Phoenix-45
  • Fuel:            12 x GP 2000 NiMH
  • Propeller      18 in


  • Empty Weight (Without batteries):    3.79 lb
  • Battery Weight:      0.96 lb
  • Payload Weight:     9.6 lb max (2x2L water bottles)
  • Gross Weight:        14.35 lb


  • Lightweight composite molded construction
  • Custom designed and built main and nose gear
  • Speed loading/unloading system


  • Take off at gross weight (GW):    100 ft.
  • Max climb rate (GW):     16 ft/sec
  • Stall speed (GW):          37 ft/sec
  • Maximum speed:            73 ft/sec

Speed loading System

The speed loading system was critical to the success of the Black Team since the mission 1 flight score depended entirely upon how quickly the payloads could be changed out.    The system used by the black team was based on different speed loaders for the different payloads.  The wood block did not need a loader since the bulkheads were designed for it.  The tennis balls were loaded into the speed loader through the end via a funnel.

Team Info: 

The OSU Black design team was led by a Chief Engineer, and divided into three primary groups: Aerodynamics/Stability and Control, Propulsion, and Structures.

Chief Engineer: Eric Wilhelm

Aerodynamics / Stability and Control:

  • Rob Carpenter (Lead)
  • Toby London
  • Duane Moore
  • Patrick Sullivan


  • Jay Crowdus (Lead)
  • Zach Bahr
  • Michael Bolitho
  • David Mays


  • Jennifer Motley (Lead)
  • Edison Chan
  • Jonathan Cude
  • Tom Fitch
  • Dustin Gamble
  • Thomas Hays
  • LeAnna Kellner
  • Ben Loh
  • Nick Peterman
  • Adi Srinivasan
  • Clayton Sanmann
  • James Tyler

Pilot: Dan Bierly

Spotter: Eric Wilhelm

Pit Crew:

  • Rob Carpenter
  • Clayton Sanmann
  • David Mays

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Andrew S. Arena, Jr.


  • Joe Conner
  • Robert Fischer
  • Matt Adair
  • Atith Kotcherlakota

*(The above team roster does not include all people involved in the project)

Contest Summary: 

The 2006 DBF contest, three missions were available for the teams to fly: Cargo flexibility in which aircraft are alternately loaded with 48 tennis balls, 4 Liters of water, and a 4inx4inx24in wood block.  Score for this mission was based on the pit stop time.  The minimum RAC mission required the aircraft to fly 96 tennis balls around a prescribed course.  Flight score for this mission was entirely based on having the lowest empty weight possible. Finally, the Incremental payload mission where the aircraft starts with 2x2 Liter bottles of water, and a bottle is added for every lap.  Score for this mission was based on the total amount carried.  Black Lightening was optimized to perform The Cargo Flexibility mission and the minimum RAC missions.

Overall score was the sum of the two best flight scores, multiplied by the written report score, and then divided by Rated Aircraft Cost (RAC).  RAC for 2006 was simply the aircraft empty weight including batteries, so having a very light and efficient airplane was essential for success.

Major design constraints:

  • The aircraft had to fit disassembled into a 4 ft x 2 ft x 1.25 ft box.
  • 100 ft runway (The shortest runway used by the DBF contest)
  • Electric motor, and NiMH, or NiCd batteries required

To begin the contest on Saturday morning, the OSU teams were in first and second place based on the ratio of flight score to RAC, and were first in line to attempt a flight.  The Black team attempted mission 2 however gusty winds resulted in a hard landing that damaged the gear, so no flight score was obtained.  By the end of the day, the team had made repairs and were ready to fly again.  A speed controller malfunction however, left the team scoreless on day 1.

On Sunday, the performance of the Lightening was flawless.  The team was second to fly and performed mission 1.  That performance alone was enough to move the team into second place behind the OSU Orange team.  After waiting in the queue, the team performed mission 2, and the resulting score was out of reach of all others.

Complete Contest Rules

Official Results

Results Summary: 
  • Report Score:      95.5 (Second highest)
  • Pit Time:              46.43 seconds (Second fastest)
  • RAC:                   4.75 (Lowest)
  • Total Score:         1414.2
  • Overall Place:       1st

The following sponsors contributed to the project.  The OSU Black team greatly appreciates their support, and considers them members of our team.  Without their support, the project would not have been possible.

Ray Booker
Lockheed Martin
Public Company of OK
Rodger’s Consulting Inc.
R.G. and Nancy Rumbaugh
Frontier Engineering
L3 Communications – Tulsa
Papa John’s Pizza
Mark and Ann McWatters
Garry and Melanie Gilmore
Jaria Gilmore
Tom and Gena Christensen
Adam and Kassie Gilmore
Ditch Witch

Memorable Quotes: 

"Full right aileron...Full right aileron!"  -Dan Bierly

"Everybody get outta here!"  -Dr. Arena

"Holler!" -Dustin Gamble

"Flawless" -Tom Fitch

Design, Build, Fly