Using a 17-foot-long helium-filled blimp, four propellers and sophisticated electronics, three Johns Hopkins undergraduates have built a model airship that will aid professional engineers who are designing a military craft to conduct surveillance at the outer edge of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The similar but much larger unmanned airship is being developed by engineers at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., to provide visual and communications support from an altitude of about 100,000 feet above sea level. To help test and refine the guidance, navigation and control system for such a craft, APL engineers asked students in the university’s Engineering Design Project class to devise a smaller version of the airship.
During the two-semester course, offered by the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the student team built a model airship that can fly autonomously, following computer commands to move itself to a predetermined location. The craft can also be steered manually through a wireless remote controller. The onboard equipment also includes a video camera that can transmit real-time images from about 50 feet above the ground.
“We’re trying to see how these systems would work, using commercial off-the-shelf equipment,” said Vincent F. Neradka, an APL engineer who worked with the undergraduates. “The model aircraft works very well. The students met almost all of our objectives. We’re delighted with what they did.”
The student inventors were Ben Jackson, 22, a double-degree major in mechanical engineering and trumpet performance from Wilmette, Ill.; Nicholas Keim, 21, a mechanical engineering major from Ellicott City, Md.; and Michael K. Chin, 22, a mechanical engineering major from Brookline, Mass.
To watch an animated view of how the HARVe airship might be launched and deployed, follow these links:
To learn more about this, read the press release.
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