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Teaching Engineering Through the use of a Student UAS Competition

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

UAV and other Team Projects in Aerospace Engineering

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Paper Authors


Calvin Russell Walker Mississippi State University

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Mr. Calvin R. Walker (Instructor, MSU) received his B.S. from Mississippi State University in 1988 and M.S. in 2006 both in Aerospace Engineering. He went on to work in C-17 Flight Test at McDonnell Douglas in the early 90s and later in the research, development, test and evaluation of a composite quasi-constant speed propeller and composite aircraft trainer at Global Aircraft. At Raspet, he oversaw the fabrication of composite molds for Bell Helicopter’s Eagle Eye UAV and the fabrication of the Berkut UAV for Geneva Aerospace, and engine fairings for the U.S. Army. He was the test conductor during the UltraLight Sensor Platform project, which was a research initiative to develop an ultralight sensor platform by creating an optionally-piloted aircraft system. As test conductor he wrote the flight test plans, flight test cards, and supervised the flight test team during test missions. He advises the Student UAS Team. He teaches the capstone aircraft design course, aircraft flight dynamics, and aircraft advanced performance. He has since left Raspet and transitioned to the aerospace engineering department. He is also developing the unmanned aircraft system engineering curriculum.

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For the past thirteen years, a student unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) competition has been used to teach students design, systems integration, prototype development and testing. The design team competes in the annual international student UAS competition hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. The concepts introduced to the students allow them to engage in real-world engineering activities ranging from the design of a system based upon the requirements given in a request-for-proposals, integrating the various sensors and electronics into the air vehicle, to writing test plans and conducting ground and flight tests for the system. Team Xipiter is a multidisciplinary team at Mississippi State University. It is typically comprised of students from the aerospace, electrical, mechanical, computer science, and industrial engineering departments. The current team also includes two students from the marketing department in the school of business. From the outset the team took a systems engineering approach by forming a multidisciplinary team knowing that real-world design and development efforts require knowledge and expertise in different disciplines. In addition, the team is a multi-classification team utilizing freshmen up to graduate level. The multi-classification ensured that “tribal” knowledge was passed down over the years. Typical mission at the competition is an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) mission. The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) must fly through the search area under autonomous control and search for various manmade geometrical targets of different shape, size, and color. The team must discern at least five characteristics of the targets such as location, shape, size, color, alphanumeric character written on the target, and orientation of the target. In addition, the team must dynamically re-task the UAV to search for an emergent target or “pop-up” target, usually something other than a geometric plywood target, by sending latitude and longitude coordinates to the autopilot without input from the UAV operator (pilot). As per the competition, the team is required to submit a “journal” paper of their design, proof of concept and flight video, conduct a flight readiness review before the judges, a safety review, and perform the mission. Team members organized themselves for their mission flights patterned after a NASA flight mission procedure with a mission director, ground crew chief, ISR officer, guidance, navigation and control officer, and UAV operator. The first year, the team took an existing commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) radio-controlled aircraft and modified it to carry the electronic equipment. However, following that year, the team felt that they did not have full control of the design process and integration and elected to design the air vehicle around the systems. The design phase of the system (air vehicle, sensors, autopilot, ground control station (GCS)) was then followed by the build phase. The team learned to fabricate the air frame using advanced composite materials. The software used to determine the characteristics of the targets is written by the students. The autopilot is a COTS item. The GCS is designed and fabricated by the students. For testing, the team is required to write a test plan detailing the objectives of the test, required equipment, and expected results. Following the test, the team is required to write a test report from the test. The report is used to help the team write the journal paper for competition. Over the years, the student UAS team has been very successful with several top 10 finishes including a championship. Since its inception, several team members have received employment in the UAV field and various other engineering disciplines. A survey is conducted to determine how participating on the design team influenced the students in their chosen fields. Details of the competition, various student activities, and educational outcomes will be presented in the full manuscript.

Walker, C. R. (2016, June), Teaching Engineering Through the use of a Student UAS Competition Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26030

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