micro aerial vehicle
The University of Texas "Phoenix V" team won the best prize for "Best Manual Challenge Execution" at the first Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) Student Challenge held at the American Helicopter Society (AHS) Forum 69. Shown above is the UT microhelicopter in flight.

Thanks to hard work and dedication, a small group of committed aerospace engineering students won a $1,000 prize at the first electric powered Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) Student Challenge. Their successful execution of a helicopter mission landed them the prize for Best Manual Challenge Execution. The mission involved flying line of sight to a target, then performing a sensor-guided, remotely operated hover over target.

The Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) Student Challenge was held at the American Helicopter Society (AHS) Forum 69 at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona on May 21. Five student- research teams from universities across the nation entered the competition.

The University of Texas group, known as the “Phoenix V” team, took an immediate interest in the challenge and made the decision to enter the competition. ASE/EM staff member Mark Maughmer II, recent graduate Andrew Kelling (BS ’13) and senior project manager David Taken worked together to build a 39 gram helicopter that utilized a dual camera system.

The competition consisted of two tasks: a poster presentation and a mission execution. Each team had the option of attempting an autonomous or manual execution. In order to complete the mission, teams were required to fly 80 feet from the take-off area and hover six feet in the air over a target for a total of two minutes.

The trio constructed their helicopter by modifying an off the shelf helicopter that used counter rotating blades. They added a forward facing camera to help maintain attitude and a downward facing one to ensure the helicopter was hovering directly above the target.

The guidelines for the competition were given less than two months ago and evolved continuously up until the time of take-off. Team members worked long hours to create their masterpiece in the weeks leading up to the competition.

The team faced challenges along the way; with constantly evolving guidelines and a new type of project, perseverance proved to be key.

“We’ve only worked with airplanes before,” Taken said. “Creating a microhelicopter was difficult. Some aircraft that flew in the competition weighed as little as six grams. Working with such tiny size and weight was definitely challenging.”

Additionally, last minute changes kept team members on their feet. Once the team landed in Phoenix, they prepped and perfected their poster presentation. But minutes before they were set to take stage, the judges asked for only one team member to present for the entire team, with a time limit of only two minutes instead of the original five they had expected.

“This competition was challenging,” Kelling said. “But it was icing on the cake. Winning a top prize was awesome.”

The conference experience, as a whole, was an enriching one.

“It introduced our students to a world they have never seen,” Maughmer said. “It also provided them with an outstanding networking opportunity since they interacted with engineers from big companies like Bell Helicopter, Sikorsky Aircraft and Boeing. They were also able to experience a research conference as undergraduates.”

UT’s well-deserved first place finish for the best manual execution has members already looking forward to next year’s competition. No team managed to capture the best autonomous execution prize and Maughmer’s alma mater, Penn State, took best prize in the poster competition.

“We definitely want to participate in future competitions,” Maughmer said. “It’s an excellent opportunity for our aerospace students to apply the skills they are learning in the classroom to real-world projects.”