A multidisciplinary team of students from the University of Missouri-Rolla took the $5,000 top prize this month in a helicopter design competition sponsored by the Huntsville, Ala., chapter of the American Helicopter Society.
“The competition objective is to design and build a small vertical takeoff and landing unmanned aerial vehicle (VTOL UAV) that can safely operate in and around buildings,” says team advisor Dr. Fathi Finaish, professor and associate chair of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UMR. “This vehicle is intended to quickly conduct both preliminary building surveys and extended spot ground surveillance in geo-constrained spaces. These emerging capabilities will allow firemen, police and other first responders to more efficiently complete their missions and bring VTOL technology closer to home.”
The UMR First Responder Design Team beat out Georgia Institute of Technology and several other universities to capture the first-place finish. The prize money will be used to refine and build the team’s design for an unmanned aerial vehicle with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities.
The team’s design — nicknamed Project SAVER because it’s a semi-autonomous VTOL emergency responder — is a coaxial, contra-rotating blade helicopter featuring a side-mounted camera. The aircraft’s semi-autonomous control system and unique sensor suite allows it to be operated around buildings and outside of the line of sight of the ground station operator. The proposed aircraft design will weigh less than 5 pounds, and be small enough to be packed inside a briefcase for storage and transport.
The UMR First Responder Design Team will refine their Project SAVER design for the April 2007 final competition, where UMR will compete with teams from Georgia Tech and the University of Alabama-Huntsville. The helicopters will be evaluated based on total system weight, time to complete mission, number of object hits and total system cost.
The team’s industry mentors include two Boeing employees who are also UMR alumni. Propulsion engineer Chris Wilson received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering and a master’s degree in engineering management from UMR. Flight test engineer Chris Keithley received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering from UMR.
Support for the team has been provided by the American Helicopter Society, the Society of Flight Test Engineers, Boeing, the mechanical and aerospace engineering department at UMR, and the UMR Student Design and Experiential Learning Center.
Members of the First Responder Design Team are:
- Tim Assel of Cameron, Mo., a senior in aerospace engineering;
- Peter Cross of Ash Grove, Mo., a graduate student in aerospace engineering;
- Ryanne Dolan of Lake St. Louis, Mo., a junior in computer engineering and computer science;
- Paul Leonard of Ballwin, Mo., a senior in mechanical engineering; and
- Paul Robinette of Maryland Heights, Mo., a junior in computer engineering and physics.