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Surrey, Loughborough and Heriot Watt scoop awards at 2021 UAS Challenge flyoff

Institution News Team

University of Surrey
University of Surrey

BMFA Buckminster successfully hosts first fly off event held since 2019 for teams to run their UAS.

The awards were presented to the winners at an awards afternoon on Thursday evening following two days of flying events held at the BMFA Buckminster airfield, with highlights shared on the UAS Challenge’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

Despite not winning any of the other awards this year, University of Surrey impressed with a combination of scoring across their reports and for their impressive autonomous flights across multiple days, even recovering from a crash to have a fourth attempt at the release of the AirDropBox system.

Paul Lloyd, Chair of the UAS Challenge, remarked “we realise that all the overseas couldn’t make it this year but it’s fantastic that teams have got this far and that all teams were able to fly in various forms. You should be immensely proud of that.”

Held every year by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the UAS Challenge sees teams of university students design, build, test and fly an unmanned aircraft system (UAS). The project follows an industry build cycle and is aligned to aerospace industry standards, helping competitors to develop their engineering knowledge and practical skills alongside their university coursework.

The ceremony involved a host of prominent VIPs, including the Institution’s President Peter Flinn awarding the runner up prize, Mayor of the Borough of Melton Peter Faulkner delivering the opening keynote address and IMechE CEO Dr Alice Bunn providing closing remarks.

UAS Challenge Head Judge Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal gave positive feedback from the judges during the ceremony, noting that “it has been an extremely challenging year and a lot of work to divide this year’s challengers into online and live events. It’s a pity that we are unable to see everyone’s UAS fly this year, but we were delighted to see yours and those virtually last month.”

“Testing is so important and it’s great to see so many teams doing some subsystems and actual testing and come with videos" he continued. "For all teams taking part next year without the constraints of COVID we hope you continue to perform some step by step testing. I hope you understand from today that they better prepared you are, the more likely you are to get something flying."

Some awards were the combination of reports and presentation videos submitted online in lieu of teams being physically able to join the Fly Off, which was a decision made to increase the opportunities for international teams to compete and gain recognition for their work.

The winners of the 2021 UAS Challenge are as follows:

  • Grand Champion - University of Surrey
  • Runner up - Loughborough University
  • 3rd place - Heriot Watt University
  • Highest Placed New Entrant - Heriot Watt University
  • Innovation - Loughborough University
  • Design - Loughborough University
  • Safety - Loughborough University
  • Business Proposition - Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology
  • Media and Engagement - Islamic University of Technology
  • Scrutineering - Imperial College
  • Airworthiness - Imperial College
  • Operational Supportability - Loughborough University
  • Most Promise - Imperial College

New IMechE CEO Dr Alice Bunn enjoyed the opportunity to see the UAS Challenge for the first time, saying in the closing address to the competitors “be in no doubt as to the value of events like this. You all would have overcome hurdles to attend and compete, this year more than ever. I am convinced that the technologies of autonomous flight systems are the future of the industry and you are at the forefront of this.”

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the UAS Challenge Steering Group would like to thank all event sponsors GKN Aerospace, Leonardo, QinetiQ, Babcock International, Raytheon, RS Grass Roots and Mashoom for their commitment and support to the UAS Challenge, alongside ARPAS-UK and AirDropBox.

Finally, we would like to thank all teams for overcoming difficult conditions to take part in this year’s UAS Challenge and hope you enjoyed the opportunity to learn and develop your engineering skills. For those of you graduating and starting your careers this summer we wish you the best of luck, for all those returning to university in September, we look forward to seeing you build on your work.

The UAS Challenge will return in September when registration will open for new teams of university students to take up the task of designing, building and running a UAS. Bookmark the UAS Challenge website, mark your calendars and follow our Twitter and Facebook channels for all updates on registration for the 2021 UAS Challenge!


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