The sky’s not the limit for student in aerospace competition

Chelsea Lotz grew up wanting to fly military planes —until she discovered she didn’t meet the Air Force’s minimum height requirement. The next best thing, she decided, was to study aircraft design and build a smaller cockpit.

Lotz, a senior in aerospace engineering, now leads a team of nine students entered in the AIAA​ design competition in June.

Last year, every KU aerospace engineering graduate was a part of at least one award-winning team at AIAA —a first in KU and AIAA history. This year KU will attempt to repeat its winning history, entering 20 students and 3 teams.

“When I walk in the design lab, I see award certificates from every single year,” Lotz says. “I want to make sure I honor that legacy and try to uphold it.”

These achievements go beyond academic sport, says Ronald Barrett-Gonzalez, associate professor and coach for KU’s AIAA teams. “When an employer wants to hire a solid engineer, all the way around, they come to KU. Our department has a zero percent unemployment rate.”


This is the first year the competition is open to underclassmen, and, in addition to five seniors, Lotz has two freshmen and a sophomore on her team. As team lead, her main priority is effective communication. “Each person’s work depends on the next person’s. If someone stays up all night to finish one portion of the project, we all do. My job is to prevent everyone from staying up all night — every night.”

In addition to the strategic military airlift Lotz is developing with her team, she is designing a supersonic unmanned combat vehicle for the individual competition.

“These aircraft are truly remarkable,” says Barrett-Gonzalez. “We’re talking about something that can fly over hostile territory, hit a target, and come back —supersonically — and with no one on board.”

Lotz is still unsure what path she’ll pursue after graduation and the AIAA competition. “My dad works at Boeing in Seattle, so there’s legacy there . . . but I have to represent Lockheed because that’s where my grandfather worked,” she says, pointing to the Lockheed logo on her polo. “I guess my future is up in the air.”

One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
5th nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets: Colleges," Military Times
KU Today