Crash Landings

Spring 2016

Benjamin Congram

Schulich Leader at Western University

Intellectually, I’ve always been one who has believed in the value of failure. I’ve read the quotes and thought failure could be good for a person. Still, in my own life, I’ve been hesitant to face challenges where failure is a strong possibility. This past spring gave me an opportunity to test this at the SAE AeroDesign competition in Fort Worth, Texas. All year long I’ve worked with a small team of engineering students designing and building a remote control airplane. It’s been a passion that has consumed many hours. In Texas, we tested our plane against the designs of other universities from around the world. It was an intense weekend involving inspections, presentations to Lockheed-Martin engineers, and several flight rounds. Our early optimism was soon dashed. In round one, the wing connection snapped, causing our wings to fold in half. Round two was missed due to repairs. Round three saw a stiff crosswind make quick work of our plane.
In total, it led to a flight score of 0.0000 – failure to four decimal places. Initially, I was devastated. Every extra hour of sleep I’d sacrificed for whittling away with sandpaper and super glue seemed for naught. With time, I’ve recognized how those hours will make me a better engineer. I learned practical lessons such as testing the strength of every connection as well as intangible lessons such as the value of organization and working with a committed team. Most of all, it inspired me to seek out challenges I may have shied away from before. Crash landings need not be the end, but may be the beginning.