Editor’s Note: We’re excited to introduce you to the innovative, bold, and talented individuals competing in GoFly. Our teams come from all over the world, shaped by their diverse backgrounds and unique life experiences. We can’t wait to see what they’ll build, but in the meantime, get to know the people behind the devices.
GoFly Prize participants get their inspiration from a variety of sources. For Stephanie McCulloch, member of Team X-Aero from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, it was her grandfather—who worked on runway construction and lent his expertise to aviation literature—that sparked her interest in aviation. Her teammate Stephen Hardiman, meanwhile, was always taken aback by the presence and stature of pilots, who commanded respect everywhere they went.
As Team X-Aero continues to build their prototype, they can’t wait to see personal flight become a reality rather than a futuristic dream. Read on to learn more about what’s driving them in the competition.
How did you realize you were passionate about aviation? What’s your earliest memory associated with flight?
Stephen Hardiman: I have always had a passion for aviation. I’ve wanted to be a pilot and still do, but the engineering side of aviation is what really excites me. Knowing how all the pieces of a complex puzzle fit together to make an aircraft take off and soar is what makes me love it.
Stephanie McCulloch: When I was nine years old, I was fortunate enough to go on a joy ride in a small general aviation aircraft over Melbourne. I could feel small streams of air pushing into the cabin through gaps in the door, which made the whole experience that much more exhilarating. At one point, the pilot allowed me to take control, which was an amazing opportunity.
When did you decide to pursue a career in aviation?
Hardiman: When I was 13, I had my first flying lesson ever, and since then, I have always wanted to be involved in the industry.
McCulloch: In my final year of primary school something clicked—I loved working with mechanical things, using creative problem solving and, of course, building things that fly.
Was there someone who inspired your interest in aviation when you were a child? Who did you look up to?
Hardiman: My parents took me on a lot of planes when I was a child, so I have always looked up to pilots as they command so much respect.
McCulloch: My grandfather was always a profound source of inspiration— he brought energy to everything he did. His contributions to both constructing runways in Australia and aviation literature were powerful, introducing me to the industry and possibilities to lie ahead.
What were some of your favorite courses in school? How did they enrich your understanding of aviation?
Hardiman: Aerospace propulsion with my lecturer Graham Dorrington, who is also on the X-Aero team, was my favorite subject. I was so awful at it that I actually had to take it twice, but Graham was such a great lecturer and has so much passion for the industry.
McCulloch: I have always loved physics, so studying dynamics and control in the third year of my honors degree allowed me to refine my aircraft modelling skills and plan control strategies. Advanced aerodynamics has also provided me with the theoretical foundations essential to coding and finite element analysis in assessing an air vehicle’s behaviour during oncoming and randomly generated air streams.
What excites you about GoFly?
Hardiman: The idea of having my own personal flying device is just astonishing. Before this competition started, I thought we were years away from achieving that reality. However, our team has shown that it is already possible with three prototypes.
McCulloch: I’m excited to have the opportunity to share with the world what us students here at RMIT University are capable of creating.
What does the world look like after you create your flying device? How do you think you will change the world?
Hardiman: After the world sees our flying device, personal flight will no longer be seen as ‘the future.’ It will be the present. I believe it will be a definitive game changer.
McCulloch: We will no longer see the restrictions of transport today. Instead, will see endless solutions. X-Aero can bridge the gap between air and land transport, offering a creative and highly viable solution.
What is your biggest challenge in the GoFly Prize competition currently? How do you plan to overcome it?
Hardiman: Marketing ourselves has been a challenge, considering that we are a team made up entirely of engineers. Sometimes there are things about marketing that we don’t quite know, but we are making plans to find people that can help us in the future.
McCulloch: I believe that our only true restraint is time, but the progress X-Aero has made already has been phenomenal! The team is working tirelessly throughout the summer holidays here in Australia to keep a fast-paced schedule, with excellent communication facilitating our efficient work.
What’s one fun fact about you that your team members don’t know? What is something we should know about you?
Hardiman: That’s a hard one, since we have spent everyday together working over the last year. But, I don’t think they know that I can play the didgeridoo.
McCulloch: Believe it or not, I am actually well versed in boomerang throwing.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a mentor?
Hardiman: That academic results are only one side of the coin, and it takes more than grades to be successful. There are so many more important factors, including applying yourself fully.
McCulloch: To keep at it! This goes for not only achieving academic results and maximizing project development, but also for creating paths for yourself. I can now say that the greatest opportunities I’ve had in this industry so far have been those which I sought out myself.
Want to see your team featured in a Q&A as well? Fill out our questionnaire to get started!