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Oklahoma State University

The official magazine of Oklahoma State University

Speedfest 2016

Soaring with STEM

Annual competition tests unmanned aircraft designed by students

By Brittany Belli

Students took their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to a whole new level at an airfield 12 miles east of Stillwater during Oklahoma State University’s annual Speedfest event.


“In terms of attendance, Speedfest is one of the largest unmanned aircraft competitions in the world; to date, there have been over 4,500 spectators, 500 students, and 150 college faculty and K-12 teachers participate,” says Andy Arena, Ph.D., T.J. Cunningham Chair and mechanical and aerospace engineering professor. “The impact is significant, and I hope that it continues to have the impact that it has had over the last six years.” 


The aircraft competition generates excitement in aerospace aviation and the STEM field by offering hands-on experience in categories that include design, build and flying components.


Speedfest features two classes of competition: Alpha and India. Alpha class is more advanced, and reserved for collegiate level teams, while India class is an invitational class open to high school teams and teams of K-12 teachers formed across the state of Oklahoma.


Started in 2011, Speedfest takes place at the OSU Unmanned Aircraft Flight Station. In addition to a fun competition and a great learning experience, it’s also an example of OSU’s innovations and advances in engineering.


“At the collegiate level, the students are designing and building their aircraft using state-of-the-art tools and techniques that they will need to work in industry,” Arena says. “Recruiters from the aerospace industry are very positive about the experience gained by college students.”


The competition includes several objectives. Alpha-class missions must be structured to incorporate propulsion, aerodynamics, state-of-the-art structures and fabrication techniques in order to be competitive. India-class missions have to be simple enough so that students with minimal or no experience can still be successful, but flexible enough that more experienced teams can also participate in the design.


Two Oklahoma State University teams captured first and second in the Alpha class. The top three in the India class were Great Plains Tech Center, Oklahoma Christian School and Meridian Technology Center.


An event like Speedfest leaves behind an unparalleled impact.


“Oklahoma has limited opportunities available to students to engage in aviation and aerospace engineering at this level, so Speedfest offers crucial hands-on experience,” Arena explains. “There is no other competition like Speedfest in the United States.”



More stories like this are available for members of the OSU Alumni Association. STATE magazine is a benefit of membership in the OSU Alumni Association. To join or update your membership go to or call 405-744-5368.


Uploaded on September 1, 2016