Flying a large remotely controlled helicopter may seem like fun and games, but it is an important part of the learning experience and research program for aerospace engineers. A 10-foot rotor helicopter, which was donated by Northrop Grumman, made its first flights last month under the watchful eyes of professors Subodh Bhandari and Don Edberg, technician Jim Cesari and sophomore Hovig Yaralin.
As its thin rotor blades whipped up a cloud of dust, the helicopter initially sputtered, then purred and lifted. It hovered a few feet above the ground but soon climbed hundreds of feet into the sky and performed 360-degree turns.
The R-MAX UAV (uninhabited aerial vehicle) helicopter can carry up to 60 pounds and is used commercially to fertilize or fumigate crops in Japan. It is one of the most sophisticated, commercially available helicopters of its kind.
At Cal Poly Pomona, the aircraft will be part of a long-term aerospace engineering project to develop an autopilot system that creates preprogrammed flight paths. It will carry video cameras and a telemetry system, as well as other observation equipment. As it flies, it will transmit photos and videos to a receiving/recording station on the ground.
“The idea is to use the helicopter as a testbed for research on the development of a robust, reliable and fault-tolerant uninhabited aerial system,” Bhandari says. “The helicopter can be used for both military and civilian applications. For instance, it could be used to survey earthquake damage and fire- or flood-affected areas. It could survey the land, send back information, and move away from other vehicles.”
Worth $200,000, the helicopter was donated to the College of Engineering in February. It can fly continuously for 90 minutes and reach top speeds of 50 miles an hour.
To watch a video of the launch, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8i0kLN9TMY.