Season Overview

The AIAA Design Build Fly (DBF) competition usually spans from mid-September to April. For BYU, this means that the season starts about 2 weeks after Fall semester starts, and the competition is around Winter Semester Finals. Below is an overview of a schedule that you might consider adopting for your project year.

(Note: you may have a big team, if that’s the case, you may want to limit whole team meetings. Below, when “the team” is referenced, you can replace that with “sub-team leads” if your organization requires.)


Week -2 (3 weeks before rules are released / 1 week before Fall Semester starts): Before the rules are even released, returning members of the DBF team should recruit new members, especially among underclassmen. There are several avenues for this kind of thing:

  1. Department Emails (ME, EE, PHSC, etc.)
  2. Bulletin Board Flyers
  3. Talking to individuals
  4. Announcements in classes
  5. Department/Club social media

In general, the more people you have, the better, as long as you can organize and motivate them all. There are also rules about the relative number of underclassmen on the team, so make sure you hit that minimum.

You’ll want to recruit people who are both interested and, if possible, already skilled in some areas. For example, you could try to recruit a TA from the CAD classes so you have people that are really good at computer aided design. Or you might grab someone who just took machine design, and could help out with payload attachment analyses. It’s important to recruit memeber that you can teach along the way, but to get a good start, you’ll want to make sure that you have people who can already do some of the things you’ll need done.

Around this time, you’ll also probably want to figure out who the overall team lead is, so s/he can start heading up organization and assignment giving.

Phase 1: Conceptual Design and Proposal:

Week 1 (the week the rules are released): As soon as the rules are released, everyone on the team should read them multiple times and write down the important stuff.

Everyone should start helping to add to an overall team checklist for the year at this point as well.

Those who are familiar with previous year’s rules will probably get through the rules a bit faster, and can start working on the proposal: setting up any formatting differences from the previous year, taking a look at other tools/templates and modifying them as needed, etc.

Week 2: After everyone has read the rules, you should have a team meeting and discuss what the rules mean, that is, translate them into the sub-system requirments so you have a clear vision of the constraints, requirements, and performance metrics for this year’s competition. Since everyone read the rules, and took notes, this should go relatively quickly.

At this meeting, after translating the rules, you should be able to designate sub-team categories and sub-team leads, if you didn’t do that already. (You could just use the template organization and then be ready before now.)

The final objective of this meeting is to organize the team members into sub-teams and give every sub-team an assignment related to the conceptual design. At this point, you can probably start with last year’s design as a good base to work from, but you need to pay special attention to the specific payload and form-factor requirements for this year. This week should involve a lot of brainstorming about those kinds of things.

This week, team management should put together the Team Organization subsection of the proposal.

Week 3: After a week of brainstorming, the team should come together and discuss their ideas for the conceptual design. This isn’t the time to make decisions, but rather the time to get all the ideas out there so that good collaboration can take place. The idea is to have everyone see all the ideas so that the best one can come out during the week.

During this week, the sub-teams should meet together and put together some decision matrices. These will be used in the final report as well, so we might as well do it correctly now. These decision matrices will help to narrow down all the brainstorming to some solid conceptual design options that will give direction for your first prototyping phase.

Week 4: After the teams have put together their decision matrices and come up with their top conceptual design options, the team should meet together and go over the decisions, making sure that they can all coexist simultaneously. If there are conflicts, this is the time to recognize them, but not necessarily resolve them.

This week, you’ll want to start prototyping the non-aero parts of your winning brainstormed concepts. Prototyping will let you know if your decision matrices need to updated, and it will also give more data to present to the team to resolve any design conflicts that presented themselves in the meeting.

The aero team will want to use this week to do some basic hand calculations for their initial sizing before running out to prototype. Note that you aren’t doing the final sizing, just making sure your prototype will glide.

By the end of this week, the sub-teams should solidify their concept decisions and be prepared to get everything working together in the next meeting.

The team management should put together the Schedule subsection of the proposal.

Week 5: By the end of this week, you should have a pretty solid idea for the conceptual design. In the meeting this week, work out any wrinkles in sub-team concept design integration. You should also be able to start on the conceptual CAD this week, if you haven’t already. Since it’s conceptual, the Graphics team should be able to finish the CAD this week as well.

The sub-teams should continue prototyping and begin testing the things that they can. The aero team should start cutting out a glider version of their conceptual design.

This week should also be when the manufacturing and testing plans subsections are put into the proposal, as well as the Budget subsection.

Week 6: This week, the conceptual design is hopefully done, so you can finish up with the Sensitivity subsection of the proposal as well as the executive summary and first round of edits/revisions. The proposal is probably due at the end of the next week, so you want to give time to make sure you have everything you need, formatted well, and all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed (well, the modern equivalent). You’ll want to get the finished product to the team advisor by the end of the week for review.

Those who aren’t directly helping with the writing should continue prototyping. If you haven’t already, you’ll want to do a glide test of a basic airframe.

Week 7: After getting feedback from the advisor, revise/edit the proposal as necessary and submit it!

Have a little team fiesta, share videos from your glide testing, and other testing, post some things on social media if you haven’t already (you probably want to regularly so people care to follow your organization).

The next phase is probably the most intensive and comes as midterms are starting, so don’t burn yourself out this week.

Phase 2: Preliminary Design

Weeks 8-9: They probably already started, but by the time you get to November, most classes will be in full swing. This is where it get’s important to stay motivated and keeping putting in good time to the team’s effort.

You should start the preliminary design this week. That means pulling out the fancy tools like XFLR5 and the equivalents for the other sub-teams (moto calc, beam codes, etc.). You already have a nice concept design, so now the goal is to refine that with tools that are a bit higher fidelity than the basic hand calculations you used before.

Ideally, you should get a good start on the preliminary design within each sub-team in this first two weeks so that you have time to start thinking about how to integrate things more fully.

The CAD team should start putting together parametric designs for individual components at this point. So that they can plug in the actual numbers and start assembling things pretty soon.

Weeks 10-11: If you haven’t already started, you’ll want to begin on your preliminary prototypes at this point.

For the aero/structures teams, you’ll want a fully functioning aircraft, minus some of the payload specifics, but you’ll want to make sure by the end of your testing in this phase that you can complete the first mission.

The payload specific teams will want to be making good prototyping progress as well during this time.

Weeks 12-14: This is the last haul before finals start. You really want to get a good preliminary flight test done by the end of these two weeks. You also want to have preliminary tests of all you subsystems done by this point, probably including some wind tunnel testing.

Week 15: Finals Week. Your goal should to have everything ready for a preliminary design review with the advisor some time during finals week.

Christmas/New Year Break

Weeks 16-17: Take a break, but if you get board, start on the detailed design.

Phase 3: Detail Design

Weeks 18-20: Now that you’re starting a new semester and don’t have any midterms, you should really get a good start on the detailed design. At this point, you’ve already had a preliminary design review and a successful (hopefully) flight test. You should apply the feedback you got in the review, and things you learned from the flight test.

You should also do high fidelity analyses now with CFD, FEA, etc. You don’t have time to do a complete these kinds of analyses for everything, so make sure to pick critial items for which you need higher fidelity information.

At some point in these four weeks, you’ll also want to prototype and test your detailed designs.

Week 21: You’ll want to finish up the content design report this week so you have time to review, revise, and edit.

Week 22: Format the design report this week, and send it off for peer review in the rest of the club. Apply feedback and send design report off to advisor for review.

Week 23: Somewhere in this timeframe the report will be due, it may be the previous week or this week or next week. Whatever the due date, make sure that you’ve completed the previous review steps, then do your final revisions from the advisor’s feedback and submit the report.

Phase 5: Final Manufacture and Dry Runs

Weeks 24-27: Build the most beautiful competition aircraft you can manage.

Week 28-29: Do some dry runs of the full missions and submit proof of flight. (This might be week 30 or 32, depending on the due dates)

Week 30: Take a rest, and get ready for finals.

Week 31: Compete! (again, this far out, we may be off by a few weeks, but it’s around this time.)


Now you just want to make sure to write down the things you learned from the competition, update this page and other DBF-guides-temp that you haven’t already, and set yourself up for success next year.