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Mickey R. Wilhelm Solar Flight Competition

The Conn Center supports a friendly competition on solar-powered model flight. The goals of the competition are to engage UofL engineering students, inspire high school and middle school students, and promote solar and other renewable energy forms. Faculty mentors from the J.B. Speed School of Engineering recruit groups of students to design, build, and fly model scale aircraft. These creations solely utilize solar energy as their source of power, either from a solar powered charging station or by direct solar conversion through aircraft-mounted cells. Craft may include airplanes, helicopters, ornithopters, balloons, zeppelins, air screws, saucers, etc. as long as they are powered by solar energy and are maneuverable in flight. The competition is named the "Mickey R. Wilhelm Solar Flight Competition" in honor of the Speed School’s eighth dean and his dedication to student achievement.

The Conn Center provides $400 seed money to each team. These funds are to be used to purchase supplies and aircraft necessary for completing the competition. Prizes are awarded for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places for the fastest 100-yard flights. Teams display their solutions during the Speed School’s E-Expo the first weekend of March and compete in flight trials in April.


  1. Design and build of solar powered aircraft and ancillary systems

  2. Flight time, as measured from the time the craft launches until it crosses 100-yards distance.


Qualifying Guidelines:

  • If used, charging time is included in the total time; charging stations do not have to fly.

    • Comment: All craft using charging stations must start with dead batteries. Depleted battery state must be demonstrated prior to charging.

  • Flights are released from 10 ft or lower height.

  • All aircraft must be unmanned and model scale. Craft may be scratch built or modified off the shelf. Lighter than air vehicles and components are permitted.

  • All craft must be able to fly, be controllable, and cross a 100-yard distance. Maneuverability in flight is required.

  • The primary power source for the craft's propulsion must be solar.

    • Comment: This might include solar panels on the wings, or on-board batteries that were charged by solar panels, direct heating by the sun, etc. Biofuel-powered flights and other solutions utilizing force magnifiers are allowed but will be penalized on a case-by-case basis (i.e., using ratios of power densities based on weight will be used to determine the penalty for time. Because of short distance, the biofuel-powered flight will have the advantage and thus the penalty will be applied depending on the biofuel system employed).

  • Craft must not exceed 250 feet flight altitude.

    • Comment: Access is granted by the FAA for the use of the airspace above the site of the Flight Trial.

  • Craft must remain visible by the naked eye at all times.

    • Comment: If the aircraft flies out of sight, it's disqualified.

  • Craft will not carry a required payload or drop anything while in flight.

  • Team members may include undergrad and grad students, staff, and faculty from any area of Speed School and the greater UofL community.

    • Comment: Multi-disciplinary collaborations are encouraged.

  • The flight shall cover the distance of 100 yards to qualify to receive an award.

  • Conn Center will provide seed money for each team TBD; other donations, contributions, corporate sponsorships, etc., are permitted.

    • Comment: Acknowledge sponsors on the aircraft and with signage. There should be an explanation of how the funds were obtained and how it pertains to the competition.

    • Retain ALL receipts for purchases and turn them in to Ms. Eunice Salazar

  • A panel of judges will evaluate each aircraft, including flight performance, technical approach, and innovation. In addition to the primary flight performance, the panel will ensure that each flight is qualified according to the specifications set forth above. In the absence of a guideline, the panel will come up with a guideline for judging the competition.

  • Safety. Do not hurt anyone or destroy property.

    • Comment: Injuries and destruction of property are grounds for immediate disqualification.

  • This flight competition will be held on a clear calm Friday with strong sunlight and low winds. A go/no-go determination will be made the Weds afternoon prior.

  • Pilots must be students. Mentors may not pilot aircraft for the competition.

  • All aircraft must be displayed during the Speed School E-Expo at any state of readiness; posters are required. Team members and mentors must be on hand during E-Expo to discuss their projects in the Ernst Hall lobby.


If you wish to be a faculty mentor or volunteer for a team, please contact Andrew Marsh at 502/852-8597 or at

Download Competition Guidelines


2012 Flickr gallery one | two | three
2011 Flickr gallery

2011 Solar Flight Competition (YouTube)
2012 Solar Flight Competition (YouTube)

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