Sunday, March 16, 2014

Field Activity #7: Visual Introduction to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles


In this field activity, I was given the opportunity to see a few different unmanned aerial vehicles in action. While the term seems to imply something very mechanical, in reality it can be something as simple as a kite. Four different methods were experimented with including two rotary wing aircraft as well as a kite and a rocket. 


Rotary Wing Aircraft #1

The first UAV (seen in Figure 1) belonged to Dr. Joe Hupy. As you can see it hovers using the the three double-blade propellers. This is field undergoing a lot of experimentation with different methods. Thus, this is not the only model by any means.

Figure 1: This rotary wing UAV belonging to Dr. Joe Hupy hovers utilizing three double-blade propellors. 

Just to give you an idea of the technology involved, this rotary wing aircraft is powered by a battery. It also needs to carry a sensor (or multiple sensors depending on the needs of the operation). This craft is equipped with a canon digital camera as well as various other sensors (as seen in Figure 2). Payload is very important for each UAV because the aircraft will need to be able to carry the weight of all necessary sensors and so forth and still maintain flight per operation specifications. This requires careful pre-planning to assess these needs, develop an appropriate UAV, and arm it with the necessary devices.

Figure 2: This figure shows the battery and sensors attached to the UAV comprising its payload.

It is also important to have experiencing operating a UAV when doing field work. This rotary wing aircraft is controlled by a remote control (as seen in Figure 3). Without knowing how to handle the aircraft under its current specifications, it could be lost altogether. Each time payload is adjusted, the aircraft will need to adjust as well. Very few (if any) parts of using UAVs can be done haphazardly. This aircraft experienced a payload change and had to undergo in-flight calibration to assess the capability for the craft to manage the weight and get the weight properly balanced for accurate flight guidance by an operator.

Figure 3: This figure shows the remote control used to operate and guide the rotary wing aircraft.

Figure 4: This figure shows an operator using a remote control guiding the rotary wing aircraft

Just to give you an idea of what this aircraft looks like in flight I have included a video (as seen in Figure 4). I have to admit, it is a little bit unnerving to see something like this if you are not aware of who is operating it and for what purpose. These are items to take not of when undertaking a mission using a UAV.

Figure 4: This figure shows Dr. Hupy's rotary wing aircraft in flight.

Rotary Wing Aircraft #2

The second UAV we witnessed in action was also a rotary wing aircraft. This model was developed by the operator (seen with his aircraft in Figure 5). As opposed to the first one, it hovers utilizing 6 single-blade propellers.

Figure 5: This figure shows a rotary wing aircraft with its creator in the background. It hovers using 6 single-blade propellers.

This particular model was much faster than the first rotary wing aircraft (as seen in Figure 6). Both of them had approximately the same amount of flight time. 

Figure 6: This figure shows the take-off for the rotary wing aircraft. 


Next, a kite was put up into the air. This is not a cheap kite you buy at Wal-Mart. It is basically industrial strength (for a kite) in order to withstand conditions as well as handle a payload in order to carry a sensor.

Figure 7: This figure shows the kite that operates as a UAV by being armed with a sensor.

Once the kite is in flight, a sensor is basically run up the string (as seen in Figure 8) in order to capture aerial footage.

Figure 8: This figure shows a sensor being run up the string of the kite in order to capture aerial footage.

This may seem a rudimentary method of capturing aerial footage, but it can be highly effective in the right setting. Wind is obviously the most crucial factor to monitor if this method is used. Without enough wind, your operation will be grounded. Too much wind can also be an adverse factor.

Figure 9: This figure shows the kite attached with an aerial sensor in flight.


As I mentioned, in this fledgling industry a lot of experimentation exists. this is especially true as each new mission presents unique nuances that need to be addressed. Dr. Joe Hupy had the idea of attaching a small sensor to a rocket (as seen in Figure 10. This would be a relatively inexpensive option to obtain aerial footage if it works. 

As you can imagine, the element of control seen in both kite and rotary wing aircraft flights is not really an option with this method. Its used would be minimal, but with a small mission scope, could prove extremely useful. 
Figure 10: This figure shows Dr. Joe Hupy attaching a small sensor to a rocket for the purpose of colleecting aerial footage.

Unfortunately this trial did not work out. Both engines in the rocket did not fire properly and the flight time was very short lived. This is the nature of experimentation, and it will be be carried out again. 


There are many methods by which aerial images can be obtained. This exercise was just an example of some them. Each method presents unique capabilities and challenges that must be accounted for in mission planning.

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