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Sources: Dale Schinstock, 785-532-2608, dales@k-state.edu;
and Bryan Rogler, brogler@k-state.edu
Photo Available. Download at http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/jun11/629aiaateam.jpg
Cutline: Members of the K-State chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Front row, from left: Jacob Wagner, Jacob Kongs, Nathan Feldkamp, Jeremy Taylor and Bryan Rogler; Middle row: Jon Albrecht, Shawn Georg and Brian Blankenau; Back row: Nathan Reichenberger. Not pictured: Jonathan Thompson, Brandon Lackey and Eric Johnson.
Video available at http://youtu.be/4L0DKo7kA9E?hd=1
News release prepared by: Tyler Sharp, 785-532-2535, media@k-state.edu

Thursday, June 30, 2011

TAKING FLIGHT: ENGINEERING COMPETITION TEAM PLACES FIFTH AT UNMANNED SYSTEM CONTEST

MANHATTAN -- When the Kansas State University chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics restarted in fall 2010, club members knew they wanted to participate in a design competition.

They settled on the ninth annual Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's Student Unmanned Air Systems Competition, June 15-19 in Patuxent River, Md. Their choice paid off with a fifth-place finish -- a performance that makes K-State's Dale Schinstock, associate professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering, quite proud.

"Given that this year was their first year, that they were competing with many teams that had been to the competition for nine years, and that they had to build a new plane after theirs crashed a little over a week before competition, I think a fifth-place finish is outstanding," he said.

The club used autopilot hardware on loan from the K-State Salina unmanned aircraft systems program. Members also used the Autonomous Vehicle Systems Lab, a part of the department of mechanical and nuclear engineering, for construction and testing of the aircraft.

The team focused on two primary components of the project: the autopilot and camera systems. The camera had to be be light, not require too much power and fit within the fuselage of the plane. It also had to have a certain resolution and be able to transmit pictures at a sufficient rate. Club members went through several options before settling on a series of web cameras that would allow for 60 degrees of viewing on each side and a Wi-Fi transmission system. Three web cameras also were used for a maximum span of reference and the ability to turn as necessary.

"It gives us a time rate of one picture for every two to three seconds," said Bryan Rogler, senior in mechanical engineering, Olathe, and the K-State chapter's president. "At the air speed we are flying, it gives us some good overlap -- which is good so we won't miss 100 yards of field that we are trying to fly."

Adapting the autopilot system to fly the aircraft required considerable work through dynamic modeling. Information supplied included wingspan, total mass of the plane and even facts about the camera system. The plane, controlled by a club member, must also have control gains applied. Control gains are numbers that must be set in the autopilot for each aircraft that allow the autopilot to fly the vehicle.

At competitions the plane must recognize targets in the field autonomously or without human interaction. This is accomplished by the plane's camera system sending pictures to the ground station in real time while the autopilot flies the aircraft along an orderly flight path to search the area.

"You have to recognize color, shape of the target and the alphanumeric character, including its color and orientation," Rogler said. "With that we've been using a lot of MATLAB coding in order to run through pixels."

The club's plane is a large radio-controlled aircraft. It is piloted by a club member who is backed up by a pilot from K-State Salina. The K-State Salina pilot can take manual control if necessary, Rogler said.

J. Garth Thompson, professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering, served as one of the team's advisers. Schinstock served as the team's technical adviser because of his research experience with autopilot systems. He thinks it's important for K-State to maintain its chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

"Doing projects like this gives the students experience that they won't get in the classroom," he said. "They really get a chance to grow when they are doing one of these projects. Not only do they have to solve the problem in an open-ended way without clear answers, they each work on a part of the project and then have to come together with a complete system in the end."

Along with Rogler, team members include:

Jonathan Thompson, junior in aviation maintenance and professional pilot, Clay Center; Jacob Wagner, senior in mechanical engineering, Manhattan; Nathan Reichenberger, junior in computer engineering, Mount Hope; Shawn Georg, senior in mechanical engineering, and Brandon Lackey, senior in electrical engineering, both of Sabetha; Jon Albrecht, senior in mechanical engineering, Salina; Jeremy Taylor, sophomore in mechanical engineering, Ulysses; Jacob Kongs, junior in computer engineering, Washington; and Nathan Feldkamp, junior in computer science, Wichita.

From out of state: Nick Clattenburg, senior in mechanical engineering, Paron, Ark., Eric Johnson, doctoral student in mechanical engineering, Caldwell, Idaho; and Brian Blankenau, junior in mechanical engineering, Lincoln, Neb.