George Mason University wins Defend the Republic

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Patriot Pilots pose with their blimps
Patriot Pilots pose with their Lighter Than Air (LTA) creations. Photo by Ron Aira/Office of University Branding

Twice a year, university teams compete in the Lighter Than Air (LTA) Defend the Republic competition. In April, George Mason University hosted the competition in EagleBank Arena and won. The winning Mason team, Patriot Pilots, led by principal investigators Cameron Nowzari, Ningshi Yao, and Daigo Shishika, all from the College of Engineering and Computing, competed against six universities and about 50 LTA robotic agents, aka blimps.

“Even after three years, I’m still in awe of what happens at this competition,” said Nowzari, who has led the competition for the past three years, will be moving on from the annual competition and leaving things in the hands of Yao and Shishika. “My hope is that this competition will continue, and more schools will get involved.” 

The competition is a mix of technology and creativity, and something students seem to have a lot of fun with, according to Yao. 

“The strength of our winning team was in the ability to think creatively through building and design,” said Yao. 

Without the severity that can sometimes accompany other types of flying agents, blimps are a lighter, gentler kind of airborne machine that appeals to many people. 

“Their soft body and low operational speed make them more tangible and accessible than drones or planes,” said Shishika. “At the same time, they bring unique and exciting research challenges that our students with diverse background tackle together.” 

The team will schedule a kickoff meeting during the summer, to plan for the next competition in November. The team welcomes students from all majors.

“We’re always actively recruiting for the team,” Nowzari said. “All that you need to bring is your passion and creativity.”  

For information on how to join, email or People can also visit to learn how to build their own LTA blimp and encourage younger students to do the same.