University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) says a recently graduated student has become the first person to successfully flight test an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that uses moving weights in its wings instead of traditional control surfaces or ailerons to turn.
Sampath Vengate, who graduated in May with a master of science degree in aerospace engineering, used existing UTA research to design, build and test a UAV that uses mass actuation – weights that move back and forth within the wings to change the center of gravity from side to side – to turn while airborne, explains the university.
He presented his findings in a paper at one of the two annual American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conferences, held in July in Washington, D.C.
The research team Vengate belongs to is led by Atilla Dogan, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. UTA says the team performed an exhaustive search of existing research, academic papers and publications and, in the end, found nothing like what this technology accomplished.
Vengate became interested in the concept as an undergraduate when he entered a competition that called for a UAV to carry a weighted payload that was off-center on the aircraft and successfully drop it on a target. The challenge was to get the aircraft back to ground safely by coming up with a way to handle the imbalance after the drop. However, says the university, he failed to complete that objective.
That’s when the idea struck him that masses inside an aircraft can be used for not only getting back the aircraft to level, but also helping maneuver the aircraft in different directions.
“I missed the target, and I realized that the ailerons/elevators of the aircraft can be completely replaced if I can develop a mechanism to perform the same actions as on a conventional aircraft,” Vengate says.
According to UTA, ailerons/elevators is an aeronautic term that accounts for the movable surfaces, usually near the trailing edge of a wing and tail, respectively. They control the roll and pitch of the airframe and affect maneuvers.
“I had seen research where fuel was redistributed to help stabilize an aircraft, and I wondered if I could build one with mass actuators that would be a constant in the aircraft,” Vengate explains.
UTA says the successful test could be important for the development of future aircraft because it would allow designers to eliminate ailerons and elevators, which inherently increase drag.
Two years ago, the UTA Research Institute was named to a national consortium charged with integrating UAVs into general airspace. A team conducted research studies that enable safe and reliable deployment of UAVs for civilian, law enforcement, military and other uses.
UTA says it has also started unmanned vehicle systems undergraduate and graduate certificates for students interested in careers in the field.