Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
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AEM spotlight:

AEM student designs 'Unicorn'

Troy Wigton

Troy Wigton is an AEM senior who has designed and fabricated a UAV which he calls "The Unicorn." It now serves as a platform for many of the departments UAV hardware-oriented experiments.

What started as undergraduate research for AEM senior Troy Wigton has turned into what he expects will be a lifelong hobby, perhaps even a career.

Working for Demoz Gebre-Egziabher, an AEM faculty member and McKnight Land-grant Professor, Wigton researched and fabricated the Unicorn – a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that students around the department now use as a platform to test avionics.

The plane measures 60 inches in wing span, can be stored in and can be launched out of the back of a car and autonomously photograph the area below.

The project was originally launched to create a UAV capable of photographing traffic, auto accident scenes, and the like for state government agencies.

“We were trying to build an airplane that could carry various payloads, including cameras so that law enforcement or state authorities could use it to replace cameras and other types of monitoring equipment,” Gebre-Egziabher says. “The idea here was to use this airplane to get all that kinds of data out in remote areas of the state where the infrastructure for collecting this data does not exist and would be expensive to install.”

“If it becomes widely accepted that we could use small airplanes in this way, it could save the state a lot of money on highway infrastructure, upkeep and management.”

Prior to creating the Unicorn, Wigton mostly focused on remote-controlled aircraft through RC Group, run out of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics student chapter in the department. He says flight has always been fascinating and RC planes allowed him to partially fulfill his dream of experiencing controlled flight.

“Flying always interested me – it’s easy to imagine oneself as a bird, and to get into RC aircraft flying, I feel like I get to be that bird,” Wigton says. “As the pilot, I could control the aircraft and get a feel for how it responds to different maneuvers and flight conditions, allowing me to validate and improve my understanding of the aircraft as a dynamic system.”

Moving from flight as a hobby to a possible career may be an easy move for Wigton – many companies are equipping and flight-testing UAVs in a similar fashion to his undergraduate research.

“Companies are building these UAVs to take up a certain payload – in my case it was a camera,” Wigton recalls of the project. “Through doing this I’ve learned this kind of research is really what I want to do in my aerospace career.”

To learn more about Troy and the Unicorn, visit AEM's UAV group.

Last Modified: Wednesday, 22-Aug-2012 13:37:30 CDT -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation