Lighter than Air

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Purpose

The Lighter than Air UAV project is intended to provide new and less experienced YUAA members with the opportunity to design and build a competition-ready UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). Lighter than Air is an aerospace design competition sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). The team will prepare for a regional competition in April, and hopefully move on to the international competition at the annual ASME conference in November.

Design Specifications

The competition involves the design and construction of a small UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) to carry a cargo through two gates, see below, drop a payload and return to the starting point. The YUAA team will design and build the propulsion and control system for the vehicle. Competition specs also require the UAV to be battery-powered, and controlled through a wireless transmitter/radio receiver link. Scoring for the competitions is dependent on both accuracy and speed. The team must also turn in one page of design calculations for final judging.

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Blimp Construction

The original design involves a blimp structure with angled fans and a superstructure, but after weeks of prototyping and designing the team had to think fast when their structure proved too heavy for the fans and helium to lift. The dedicated team set to it and quickly redesigned their blimp based using a combination of a tail-like rudder and fans.

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Competition

The lighter than air team attended the Student Design Competition hosted by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and Drexel. The challenge posed was to navigate an obstacle course by traveling through two hoops, dropping a payload, and returning to the original position earning points for each obstacle they completed. The team of mostly freshmen and beginners faced a room full of complex quadcopters and octocopters. However the team’s minimalist and careful design proved fruitful.  Though the quadcopter design is interesting, it is also difficult to control and fragile. Of the teams who competed, YUAA was one of only two or three teams who navigated the course without crashing. The team successfully made it through a hoop, dropped their payload, and returned to start with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication about the rules, the team did not realize flying they had to fly through both hoops, and were not able to complete the course before the blimp’s battery died; however, the team considers the flight a success as they went above and beyond their goals for the competition, all while being one of the only teams not to destroy their craft during the timed flight.