Airbus Innovation Fun Day Challenge 2019

Going in with the lowest expectation only to come out with the highest achievement.

Posted by Jet on December 07, 2019 · 11 mins read


The Airbus Innovation Fun Day is a whole day event where six teams from across the nation compete head-to-head. The challenges (not surprisingly) are based around aviation and aerospace challenges. This year, I had the privelege to participate in this competition, which was coinciDON’Tally held between the completion of my final year project, and the start of my final exams. As consequence to this, the Taylor’s team (my team) had the utmost opportunity of being the most ill prepared team for this competition.

The competition had three parts:

  • The rocket drone challenge

    A drone attached to a water rocket that has to achieve an altitude of 100 feet and land safely on a target no wider than an A4 sheet of paper.

  • The unknown challenge

    Essentially, the construction of a flying ornithopter (think bird made of paper complete with flapping wings, it also flies) to be completed within 1.5 hours. This challenge was unbeknownst to us up until the actual challenge itself, and we were denied all access to digital technology, basically no interweb cheating.

  • The modular drone challenge

    A drone that can, in no particular order: carry water bottles from point A to point B, be able to land on a body of water and take off again, fly through 40x40cm tunnels, endure a drop test from 6 meters, be capable of aggressive maneuvres to repeatedly cycle between two waypoints, and also be FPV capable.

Knowing this challenge set, one would assume we’d have set aside 2 weeks in advance to come up with the required drone(s) to have the best chance of winning. One would also assume we’d have the luxury of a good supervisor on hand to aide in whatever uncertainty we may have. However, being the geniuses that we were (spoiler alert: we’re not), coupled with a tight schedule, and having need to adhere to laboratory operating hours, we had what could only be described as 10 hours of total prep time spread over 4 days. It was at this realization that we decided to only focus on the rocket drone challenge, and aim at performing that task well. The capability of the team to complete the unknown challenge was up for guesses. The last challenge we intended to gracefully withdraw.

Given these set of circumstances, what we had heading into the competition was a 250 quadrotor attached to a soda bottle with three ropes of electrical tape, and a spud gun to launch the whole contraption into the air, and a bicycle pump. Through sheer demotivation, we also brought no spare props or tools. There was one silver lining: the quadrotor in question was a very reliable drone with GPS and wifi telemetry capability, with a solid carbon frame and EMAX red bottom motors, linked to a Futaba T14SG transmitter.


It is with utmost shame (no not really), that I admit we made it to the opening ceremony late. An hour late to be exact. It is also with utmost shame (lies), that I admit one of our team members overslept, and one of our team members (me) underestimate the time needed to make the drive to the venue. On top of this, have I mentioned that participation is done by teams of four to five, with at least one available supervisor at hand? Because we arrived as a team of three with no supervisor. To add to this, every other team had uniforms or shirts repsenting their respective universities, we were as casual as a cat on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Naturally, due to the presence of an unexpectedly small team coupled with being late, the crowd expectation for the Taylor’s team to perform was very low. To add on, many other teams had tools galore, heat guns, soldering irons, an abundance of props, prop tools, spare drone parts, multiple drones; think F1 team during a race, but for drones. Regardless of team presence, the competition had to go on, and go on it did.

Rocket Drone Challenge

To complete this challenge, a few things needed to be accomplished. The first and most obvious is to launch the drone via water rocket to 100 feet. The second challenge was to prove that the drone was indeed at an altitude of 100 feet (wifi telemetry worked well for us). The third and final challenge was to then land the drone on a landing pad some 20 meters away from the launch site (yey GPS!). Considering that this was the challenge we prepared for, we performed it very well. I kid you not when I say the solution we came up with was to electrical tape (not even duct tape) our 250 drone to the top of a soda bottle (it was mountain dew), and fire it off the end of a spud gun pressurized to 700 kPa. Fortunately for us, we were the only team who completed each requirement successfully. One team had launched a bottle without a drone (?????), two other teams had drones (attached to bottle) come pummeling back to the planet, one team had what could be described a succesful launch and land without reaching 100 feet, and then there was us, flying flipping colours. Prior to our turn to perform launch, we had some of the organizing committee approach us and informing us that they were worried about our team. Post launch, I suppose I need not mention that they were just a little surprised.

Unknown Challenge

The unknwon challenge was to construct a flying ornithopter out of common materials like parchment paper, wooden skewers, popsicle sticks, cyanoacrylate glue, etc. If you don’t know what this is, I suggest watching a youtube video or two. Fortunately for us, we’ve had an encounter with one of these contraptions before, though I can’t say the same for the other teams. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get ours to take off. Fortunately, the same can be said for every other team. The main obstacle we encountered as due to insufficiently tight tolerances in the drive shaft. This caused a lot of friction or binding up of the main motor, disallowing the wings from doing their thing. I do now know what proportion of the full score we attained for this challenge, but I’d like to think it was pretty high considering that we were the only team able to come up with a theoretically sound design.

Modular Drone Challenge

This was the challenge that we did not prepare for. However, knowing our progress throughout the previous challenges, we decided on the spot to use the same drone for the bottle rocket launch, and try to accomplish as much of this challenge that we’re able to. This includes landing on a body of water, the flight through the tunnels, repeated waypoint flights, drop testing, and catastrophically - carrying bottles of water from point A to point B. I say catastrophically because that was the first part of this challenge that we undertook, and flying a drone in stabilized mode carrying a hook to pick up a bottle with an eyelet the size of a bottle cap is not easy. After 15 minutes of trying, the drone accomplished hooking one bottle, and proceeding to crash right after. It was also in this particular task that the drone crashed and exploded one of its props, and badly damaged the other 3.

After that darned moment, our hearts were kind of slumped. We had no spare props, and were basically a sunken ship. Thankfully, the team at USM agreed to donate a set of spare props they had. Aside from using empty water bottles as floats to allow the drone to land on a body of water, there is not much excitement throughout this challenge other than what could be described as a lot of grit, determination, swearing, crashing, and just YOLO-ing.


It was at the closing ceremony that our supervisor could finally make the one hour trip from work to where we were, and with hearts in our stomach that we were announced the winners of the competition. Quoting Raymond Lim: “You don’t need a whole team and many designs to win a competition, just three persons and a good design.” Honestly, this outcome is one which non of us expected: a surprise indeed, but a welcomed one.

Truly special thanks goes to my two friends: Aaron Chin and Low Su Ann for being just all round the best team mates I could ever ask for (as of December 2019, they also need jobs, so hire them please XD). Credit needs to also go to my supervisor, Dr Phang, for miraculously appearing during the prize giving ceremony.

From left to right: Raymond Lim, Phang Swee King, Low Su Ann, yours truly, Aaron Chin

More pictures to be added when I have them.