Living by the motto “The sky is never the limit”, Club Aero Unwired has been innovating and improvising ever since its inception. In the second edition of Tech Matrix, we have Aashish R, the Technical Secretary, and Michael Antony, the SAE Captain, to enlighten us about Aero Unwired’s origin story, the challenges they face, and of course, their aerial adventures.

Can you tell me something about the group, when it began and how?

Aero Unwired actually started back in the 1970s by a few students interested in aero-modelling and aeronautics. Unfortunately, there weren’t many activities and the club died down. However, in 2012, the group was revived by a group of space enthusiastic seniors. From then, it has been an absolutely amazing journey which just gets better with every passing year. We started off with a small yet passionate group of 3-4 people who actively collaborated with new people by working on some fascinating projects. Now, we are proud to say that we have a team of 57 inquisitive members.

What do you feel the group stands for at its core?

Though we do not have an official motto as such, there is a line of quote that drives us all internally - SKY IS NEVER THE LIMIT! We strongly feel that it reflects on the challenging projects that we do and it surely keeps us stimulated.

That’s motivating! Tell us a bit more about your team structure. How do you ensure smooth functioning year-round?

The group is headed by a technical secretary who is the fourth year. Apart from this, we have a core team consisting of the financial secretary (fourth year), SAE captain (third year), deputy secretary (third year), two treasurers (third years) and a social media head (third year). Along with this we also have team coordinators for the events that we conduct. We also have team leaders for the numerous competitions and events that we take part in, who will be assigned the responsibility of leading the team from day one up until the event concludes.

Despite having started just a few years back, Aero Unwired has actively participated in many competitions. Would you tell us a little bit about those?

As you said, since 2012, we have taken part in several events and competitions. The most important one is the competition organised by SAE, the Society of Automotive Engineers. In 2016, we took part in the Aero Design Challenge and bagged the first prize. Later, in 2017, we won the first prize in the design competition and fourth in the overall contest.

We have also participated in numerous other competitions like Boeing National Aero-modeling Competition hosted by IITs. We recall it as one of the most competitive events that we have taken part in. We also went to the event conducted by NIT Trichy. Other events that we participated in outside college include Albatross hosted by TKM, where we bagged the second prize. Within our college, we have taken part in events conducted by Tathva which includes Hovercraft and AquaGT, and have won the first and second prizes there respectively.

(At SAE 2018)

How do you celebrate victories and cope with failures?

Celebrating victories is a must. Applauding wins to motivate the team to continue delivering quality work. Nevertheless, we are a technical group with small funds. From the club’s perspective, it’s not realistic to throw a party. Though we do celebrate in a small fashion, the real victory for us is the sight of a successful model flying high up in the sky. The happiness and contentment when we receive positive feedback know no bounds.

Coming to failures, we never take it in a negative sense. For us, failures are nothing but learning opportunities where we find ways to improve our next model.

Every year, the technical groups conduct a pre-Tathva workshop. Would you tell us a bit about behind-the-scenes of that?

The initial step is to decide on the topic of the workshop. While deciding, what we primarily focus on is to come up with a challenging project that would be an interesting learning experience for the first years. Towards the end of the workshop, we also include a group project that gives the attendees an opportunity to apply all that they have learnt. Last year, we implemented the project of an electric RC aircraft which received a massive audience. This year, we had the idea of implementing a drone that could be controlled via our smartphone. Unfortunately due to Covid19, we were not able to carry it out.

(Above, Pre Tathva Workshop 2019)

In our college, there is a very evident gap between what we learn in class and what we apply in the real world. In what ways can we adequately improve on practical knowledge?

The gap is clear and evident. The presence of groups like Aero Unwired really helps to reduce it. I believe that we should increase the number of technical interest groups in colleges as it most definitely helps to convert the theoretical knowledge that we acquire into practical experience. Another thing that most students fail to realize is the fact that apart from our Mini Project and Main Project, one can do a project under a faculty’s guidance, we just have to take the initiative.

Considering how expensively it is to print aeronautical parts, is there a part of your club looking towards improving that or do you rinse and repeat old techniques?

We constantly strive to get the most economical and effective products that are available in the market. Cheap and light are the primary factors that we take into consideration. We have researched a lot about the recent rise of 3D printing. Consequently, we collaborated with the Design Innovation Center and manufactured the 3D objects that were used in the Pre-Tathva workshop conducted last year. It was the first time that we ventured into such a field.

Nevertheless, we largely make everything on site. In the future, we plan on taking the help of the DIC as much as possible. We also aim to make a 3D printing machine on our own and use fibreglass, a strong material that can be moulded into any shape, for fabrication purposes.

Since joining in your second-year, what are some of the important things you’ve learnt as part of the club?

The most important thing I have learnt is working in and for the team. Enjoying the process and having fun along the journey is crucial. Pushing, motivating and helping each other cross limits is also something that I learnt as part of the club. Giving a project all that you can and finally seeing it in the arena, up and high in the sky, is a source of unexplainable joy. The technical details can most definitely be learnt along the way, but apart from them, I believe that these are some important lessons that will definitely take you places.

Now for all those aspiring to be a part of Aero Unwired, what would you say are the essential characteristics needed for being a part of this team?

More than those who are technically sound, we look for inquisitive minds who are constantly motivated to learn. The ones who are passionate to find solutions through aeronautical means are the students that fit best in our club. The analytical minds that possess the ability to make efficient decisions and are ready to put in their utmost efforts are what we really look for while recruiting inductees every year.

(At Albatross, conducted by TKM)

No doubt Covid-19 must have severely affected your activities. Even though you are losing opportunities and the chance to learn, what do you do to combat that? How do you keep your team motivated during this time?

I believe one of the unanimous approaches every organization would follow during such difficult times is to hold regular meetings. Following the same trend, we have weekly group calls and play fun Kahoot quizzes to divert everyone’s minds from the packed schedules. Conducting an online event like ‘Aviate’ really helps us stay connected. To see people cumulatively working on it is exciting. It is also a really good time to plan our future.

Along with that, we have also started reconnecting with our alumni. Lately, we have been having monthly video call meetings with them and we receive their ideas and suggestions on various aspects of the club.

(Alumni meet)

Speaking of Aviate, would you let us in on the thought process behind it?

One major lesson that we understood through experience is the difficulty of taking part in competitions conducted in remote places. Finding an accommodation there combined with expenses that we had to incur made the whole task complex. A strong desire to make the process simple and the imposing lockdown motivated us to create an online event. We also wanted it to be accessible to any technical group across the world. This is also the first step to a long term goal of ours to conduct workshops and events along this line.

What are the challenges you encountered while conducting an online event?

While considering the prospects of considering an online event, the first important one is to have the necessary contacts. We realized that things may get really messy if we did not create a proper database. We did face a bit of difficulty there initially, primarily because the exam process and timings vary in different colleges which at times clash with the competition days and so hampers the participation. So we made the dates of the event extremely flexible with a motive to reach each and every college across India.

Could you briefly elaborate on the projects that AeroUnwired is currently handling?

We are working on five major projects, namely Autonomous Planes, Autogyro, Drone, VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) and SAE. Each project has its respective aims and goals. The members have been divided into 5 teams and are actively working to learn new things and contribute to the project in the best way possible.

Lastly, where do you see the group five years from now?

We are not a stagnant club. Our growth is immensely fulfilling and constructive. Broadening Aviate and focusing on the long term prospect of it by including interesting lectures and exhibitions is something that we are currently working on. We would like to establish ourselves as a platform where people interested in aeronautics can present their ideas. Apart from that, we want to participate in as many competitions as possible so as to gain wonderful experiences and deeper insights. We are also planning to create different groups in the club on the basis of various aeronautical topics and aim to have a fully-fledged Rocket Modeling division in 5 years. Besides that, we also wish to collaborate with different companies and work on various projects that will overall be useful to society and be an unforgettable experience for future inductees.

A club driven by the passion to learn, Aero Unwired’s exponential growth shows how determination and perseverance can take you far even when times are hard.

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Interview by Vardhah Anees