Miniature aircraft have great potential

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    By Jonathan Tolman

    They”re less than six inches long, they weigh about as much as a canary and they can take pictures of you from hundreds of feet in the air.

    BYU mechanical engineering students are developing Micro Air Vehicles. Micro Air Vehicles, or “MAVs,” are radio-controlled aircraft equipped with tiny cameras.

    Universities from across the globe will be coming to BYU for an international MAV competition April 11-13.

    “This year, we”re going to win,” said Kevin Paulson with a smile. “And this is the plane we”re going to use.” Paulson then held aloft a 32-gram, 5-inch aircraft made of foam, tape, balsa wood, a 2-and-a half-inch propeller, a battery- powered motor and a radio-controlled guidance system.

    Paulson, a graduate student from Chico, Calif., studying mechanical engineering, has been with the MAV project since BYU became involved with it three years ago.

    Competition is divided into two different phases. First, the teams are scored on the duration of a flight.

    In the second phase, the teams must pilot their vehicles one-third of a mile to a target and photograph it from above.

    “Not only do we want to make something really small that flies, we want it to carry surveillance equipment,” Paulson said.

    The scores given to each plane are heavily weighted by the size of the plane.

    “The first year, (BYU”s) plane was about three feet. Last year, it was twelve inches. Kevin just flew one that”s five,” said Jerry Bowman, associate professor of mechanical engineering and coach of the MAV project. “The progress they”ve made is really impressive.”

    Kendall Foukes, a graduate student from Coalinga, Calif., studying mechanical engineering, is glad to be involved with this challenging, yet recreational project. “It”s nice when you have a hobby, and other people show an interest in it,” Foukes said.

    The military encourages universities to develop this technology for reconnaissance purposes.

    “They want a soldier to be able to pull a box out of his backpack during a battle, launch a plane out of it, and see what”s over the next hill. A little video spy plane,” Paulson said.

    The planes also have the potential to be fitted with microphones and landed on roofs or even inside buildings, Bowman said.

    Bowman predicts these vehicles could easily be reduced one or two inches within the next year. These insect-like spy devices would give new meaning to a room being “bugged.”

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