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Board # 65 : Low-cost Fixed-wing Construction Techniques for UAS Curriculum

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Engineering Technology Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

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Paper Authors


Michael C. Hatfield University of Alaska, Fairbanks

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Michael C. Hatfield is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Associate Director for Science & Education, Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration. He earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from Ohio Northern University; an M.S. in electrical engineering from California State University Fresno, and a Ph.D. in Electrical/Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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Catherine F. Cahill University of Alaska, Fairbanks

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Dr. Catherine F. Cahill serves as the Director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration – RDT&E (ACUASI) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and the CEO of the Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range Complex. For more than 30 years Cathy has conducted research on atmospheric aerosols and their impacts on visibility, global climate, and human health including the size and composition of particulate matter entering the Arctic from Asia and the sources and potential health impacts on U.S. forces of atmospheric aerosols in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2006, Cathy has collaborated with the UAF UAS program and worked on developing unmanned aircraft-based sensors for determining the concentration, composition, and spatial distribution of atmospheric aerosols. In August 2015, Cathy completed a nineteen-month Congressional Fellowship with the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and returned to UAF to join ACUASI’s leadership team.

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John Monahan University of Alaska, Fairbanks

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John Monahan is currently the Director of University of Alaska Fairbanks, Upward Bound and Principal Investigator of the National Science Foundations EPSCoR Track 3 "Modern Blanket Toss" project investigating the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in K12 classrooms.

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Low-Cost Fixed-Wing Construction Techniques for UAS Curriculum

The UNIVERSITY CENTER, one of six FAA test sites, has a dual role of exploring the application of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to academic and scientific research, and in evaluating safety considerations and operating practices in order to integrate UAS into the National Airspace Space. To meet these needs rapidly and efficiently, CENTER must integrate a wide variety of sensors onto UAS platforms in support of arctic research and public projects. In addition, some mission requirements dictate development of certain UAS components, or entire platforms, in order to satisfy necessary payload and flight performance characteristics.

Central is the ability to rapidly create low-cost flight hardware utilizing 3D printing and composite layup techniques. To support the abbreviated fielding cycles often associated with arctic research and public safety missions, CENTER requires a rapid means of creating UAS components, both for rotary-wing and fixed-wing platforms. While rapid prototyping is commonly used in making components for widely popular rotary-wing UAS, much of this same technology may be harnessed and brought to bear on the design and fabrication of somewhat more complex fixed-wing aircraft in order to satisfy a broad set of mission flight envelopes.

This approach has been applied to the development of fixed-wing UAS at the CENTER, such as the Lockheed Martin Stalker. While UNIVERSITY seeks to eventually develop an organic capability for constructing fixed-wing UAS of various shapes and sizes supporting a multitude of flight envelopes, this process may be applied to the repair or replacement of components for numerous UAS assets. The Stalker was selected as an initial testbed, as it fills a vital operational need, providing roughly 2 lbs payload for 2 hrs endurance. CENTER possesses a number of older Stalker airframes; however, these were provided after having exceeded their useful lifetime and most components no long flight worthy.

By selecting an existing operational UAS for repair and study, CENTER is able to chart a logical path for technology development and flight certification purposes. Using a ‘crawl/walk/run’ approach, CENTER may incrementally develop technical expertise, first gaining basic skills in repairing existing components, then refining techniques necessary to build replacement components, and over time gaining the requisite knowledge and skills to build an entire UAS from scratch. In this way, students may methodically develop practical approaches for creating reliable, cost-efficient fixed-wing aircraft.

On the other end of the spectrum, exposing students to challenging design projects in which particular performance characteristics must be highly optimized (eg, AIAA Design/Build/Fly competition), or the use of radically different construction techniques (eg, balsa wood ribs reinforced with carbon fiber tape, or mylar wing surfaces) can provide invaluable learning experiences which the student can then apply later design projects. By honing these techniques over time, in a less optimized and competitive environment, these techniques can lead to breakthroughs in practical UAS design methodology.

With sufficient practice and experience, these skills allow students to build practical, low-cost UAS supporting a wide range of payload and flight envelope requirements. These can be matured and standardized to form a fleet of reliable, inexpensive UAS capable of satisfying numerous operational missions. What’s more, students are central to all aspects of the UAS lifecycle process, from mission inception through UAS development to mission accomplishment. Such experience is invaluable to providing students with key components of a quality UAS education and training program: mission requirements analysis, UAS design, flight operations, and data product generation. In addition, such a program is effective in generating student interest and support by industry and the local community.

This paper will provide details of payloads/components fabricated for CENTER UAS assets supporting exciting arctic research, as well as lessons learned and efforts pushing this down to HS/MS students.

Hatfield, M. C., & Cahill, C. F., & Monahan, J. (2017, June), Board # 65 : Low-cost Fixed-wing Construction Techniques for UAS Curriculum Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27898

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