AIAA Announces Design/Build/Fly (DBF) Winners Written 18 May 2021

Competition Champions 25 Years of Aircraft Innovation and Design

May 18, 2021 – Reston, Va. – The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) today announced the winners of the 25th annual AIAA/Textron Aviation/Raytheon Missiles & Defense Design/ Build/Fly (DBF) Competition.

The 2020–2021 Design/Build/Fly winners are:

  • First Place ($3,000): Dayananda Sagar College of Engineering, Bengaluru, India
  • Second Place ($2,000): University of Central Florida
  • Third Place ($1,500): Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach
  • Best Report Score ($100): University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

The contest provides a real-world aircraft design experience for undergraduate and graduate engineering students by giving them the opportunity to validate their analytic studies. The competition is divided into two sections—a proposal and a formal design report. This year teams were also encouraged to submit a video presentation showcasing their aircraft in flight.

This university program invites teams of students to design, fabricate, and demonstrate the flight capabilities of an unmanned, electric-powered, radio-controlled aircraft that can best meet the specified mission profile. The goal is a balanced design that demonstrates flight handling qualities and practical and affordable manufacturing requirements while providing a high vehicle performance.

“Design/Build/Fly is a highlight of the year,” said Dan Dumbacher, AIAA executive director. “Aerospace trains us to adapt to the unexpected. It’s a good lesson for students as they enter this vibrant and meaningful field. Congratulations to the winning teams!”

This year’s teams were treated to a message from Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and DBF alumnus, Joshua Dobbs. Dobbs is a 2017 graduate of Tickle College of Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he majored in aerospace engineering with a minor in business administration.

During the awards ceremony, Dobbs shared, “Engineering can be hard, especially in this discipline. We are working to change human transportation on Earth and in space. Seems pretty simple, right? In those moments when the problems seem insolvable and overwhelming, remember why you became passionate about the field. Along any journey to reach your goals you will face adversity. Your attitude will define how you overcome it.”

This year’s DBF objective was to design, build, and test an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with a towed sensor. Missions included delivery of the UAV, transportation of sensors in shipping containers, and surveillance by deploying, operating, and recovering a towed sensor. More details about the mission requirements can be found on the DBF website at Follow DBF on Facebook at @Aiaadbf.

“We are impressed with the resilience these teams have demonstrated by continuing their participation during the pandemic. I have enjoyed the video submissions by the teams flying their aircraft – we are inspired by their enthusiasm, talent, and creativity, which are hallmark to this event,” Dumbacher concluded.

The DBF organizing committee accepted 115 proposals for the 2020–2021 competition. Of those, 92 teams submitted design reports and 68 teams submitted a video presentation. The formal reports are scored for design, as well as manufacturing and testing plans.

Russ Althof, director of the DBF organizing committee, said, “We owe our thanks for the success of the DBF competition to the efforts of many volunteers from Textron Aviation, Raytheon Missiles & Defense, and the AIAA sponsoring technical committees: Applied Aerodynamics, Aircraft Design, Flight Test, and Design Engineering. These volunteers collectively set the rules for the contest, publicize the event, gather entries, judge the written reports, and this year, judge the videos instead of the fly-off.”

AIAA Media Contact: Rebecca B. Gray,, 804-397-5270.

About AIAA 
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is the world’s largest aerospace technical society. With nearly 30,000 individual members from 91 countries, and 100 corporate members, AIAA brings together industry, academia, and government to advance engineering and science in aviation, space, and defense. For more information, visit, or follow AIAA on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn.