Undergraduate engineers take top honors for their presentation skills and glider design at competition held at the National Society of Black Engineers 49th Annual Convention

A team of Lehigh undergraduates won first place in the team presentation and design category in the Boeing Flight Competition, held in conjunction with the National Society of Black Engineers 49th Annual Convention. 

The team—mechanical engineers Zemichael Gebeyehu ’24, Mika Asfaw ’24, and Yafet Menjetta ’23 and computer science and electrical engineering double major Amir Jemal ’23—traveled to Kansas City, MO, in late March with a larger delegation of Lehigh students attending the NSBE convention. 

“Overall, the competition was a great opportunity for us to interact with other engineering students as well as Boeing engineers and learn a lot from their experiences,” says Gebeyehu, the team’s captain, who is also lead systems engineer for the Lehigh University Space Initiative. “It’s a great hands-on opportunity for students to design and build gliders, while practicing the fundamentals of aircraft design.”

Prior to the competition, students design and build Balsa wood gliders according to a set of specifications, testing their work and documenting their process along the way. At the two-day event, the teams give a multimedia presentation showcasing their efforts to a panel of judges and launch their gliders to demonstrate their airworthiness and measure how far they fly.
Three awards are given in both the distance and presentation and design categories and one team is recognized with the overall award, amounting to $5000 in total prize money.
Gebeyehu credits his team’s systems engineering approach to designing the glider and well-defined Concept of Operation (CONOPS) as key to their success among the 22 entries from schools across the country. 

He says the team’s glider had the largest wingspan in the competition “to increase the glide ratio” and incorporated a “dihedral angle for roll stability.” They used a laser cutter in Wilbur Powerhouse to cut the components for the glider, bonded components with epoxy adhesives, and manually sanded the wings “to have a high-lift cambered airfoil.” 

The judges “really liked our methods of optimizing our glider design through various Computer Aided Engineering methods (CAE) as well as back-the-envelope calculations,” says Gebeyehu. “Our custom, manually manufactured airfoils for the wings made us stand out from other gliders.” 

Lehigh students at Boeing Flight Competition
Lehigh students attending the the National Society of Black Engineers 49th Annual Convention supported their peers taking part in the 2023 Boeing Flight Competition.

This was the team’s second year participating in the Boeing Flight Competition, he says, and the feedback they received from the judges will help them prepare for next year’s event. 

“Our goal for next year is to fine-tune our design for more performance, as well as conduct more testing to support our design decisions.”

Main photo: From left, Mikael Asfaw, Zemichael Gebeyehu, Yafet Menjetta, and Amir Jemal; below: detail of the Lehigh team's glider. Photos by Asgar Ali '23.