Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Eagle-eyed micro-plane holds key to modern military's surveillance needs

Two mechanical engineering seniors at Lehigh University have designed and built the military surveillance aircraft of the future – a micro-plane weighing just 100 grams that can fly 600 meters, take an aerial photograph of a small object on the ground and transmit the photo back to a receiver.

Jeff Bartron and Andrew Giampa entered their plane in the the sixth-annual Micro Aerial Vehicle (MAV) Competition last month at Brigham Young University in Utah.

The event was sponsored by the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA).

From October to April, Bartron and Giampa worked every day and weekend on the project except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

They went through countless designs and models. Their first plane – a glider with no engine – lasted a few swoops inside the auditorium of Lehigh’s Packard Laboratory. They added an engine, outgrew the auditorium, and walked across the street to the football field at Broughal Middle School. They made more refinements, including a downward tail and rudder for stability, and took their plane to the athletic fields of the university’s Goodman Campus, the only area large enough to accommodate a 600-meter flight.

The final product has a 9-inch wingspan and a Cox TeeDee .01 engine that runs on nitro-methane model airplane fuel and spins at 30,000 rpm. The students made the frame out of carbon fiber, which they cut with a Calypso WaterJet System. More details about the plane (and video footage) can be found at the students’ web site, www.lehigh.edu/~inmav.

The students also used computer-aided design software and computer numerical-control (CNC) machining equipment to design and make the plane. They used a radio transmitter to control the plane in flight, including its elevation and the movement of its rudder. They attached a tuned wire behind the plane to serve as an antenna to transmit video signals from the plane’s tiny camera to the receiver. For the camera, they chose a CMOS wireless, the world’s smallest color video camera.

For more on the micro-plane, click here.

Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2002

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