Six years, 150 students go into UAV launch

The UAV that took six years, and the work of 150 Carleton students, was unveiled with great fanfare in March. A test flight of the aircraft is scheduled later this spring.(James Park Photo)

Carleton became the first Canadian university to unveil an uninhabited aerial vehicle built from the ground up by more than 150 engineering students over a six-year period.

Last month, students rolled out the GeoSurv II, a prototype uninhabited aerial vehicle that’s intended to do geophysical surveying.

“No other university in Canada has ever built something this complex and this large as a student project,” says Jeremy Laliberté, project manager and assistant professor in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

The UAV project began in 2004 and, since then, more than 150 students have worked on it for their fourth-year project.

Sander Geophysics Ltd., an Ottawa-based company, has been involved with the project since the start. It tasked the students to create a UAV for high resolution geomagnetic surveys. It’s designed to be a low-cost alternative to the traditional methods of using manned aircraft and ground vehicles, explains Sean Donnelly, a fourth-year aerospace engineering student who worked on the project this year.

Students from other departments, including systems and computer engineering and electronics, were also involved. Laliberté says the process of designing the UAV meant that each year a new group of students came on board, picking up where the previous group left off.

After six years, the UAV was ready to be showcased to the public.

“It’s fantastic for Carleton,” says Laliberté. “It’s really kind of a milestone for us to get this far with this kind of project.”

And Donnelly says the students are very proud of the aircraft.

“We’ve put in a lot of work — hundreds and hundreds of hours since the beginning of the year,” he says.

In previous years, groups worked on assembling smaller components and individual parts but this year the students were actually able to put it together.

Sarah Baldwin, a fourth-year aerospace engineering student, says the last phase was exciting.

“Coming into it and finding out that we’re the team that gets to show it to everybody, (and) possibly gets to fly it, it’s pretty great,” says Baldwin.

Before it’s airborne, the UAV will have gone through safety reviews. Laliberté says they hope to test-fly it this spring at the Arnprior Airport.

Data from the test flight will be collected and analyzed by the students, who will assess how well the aircraft met its performance targets.

“The eventual plan is to continue to refine the design, maybe build another version of this aircraft with better performance and then work with (SGL) to see if they’re interested in operating them,” he says.

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