Cal Poly-built drone places 2nd in international competition

nwilson@thetribunenews.com  November 24, 2014

Cal Poly’s student team tasked with designing and building a drone for a recent international competition in Montreal had a moment of pure exhilaration upon completing their mission last week — especially since they had to overcome a devastating mishap a few hours earlier.

 This video is the Sky Barge flight at the International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition in Montreal, Canada, on Nov. 16, 2014. The team is interdisciplinary and consists of nine students from California Polytechnic State University.
 
The team placed second at the prestigious 22nd annual American Society of Mechanical Engineers Student Design Competition.

But at 3 a.m. on Nov. 16, five hours before the event, they weren’t sure if they’d be able to compete at all.

During a test flight, their plane suffered a radio glitch and crashed into a wall, shattering seven of their eight carbon propellers, said Gordon Belyea, Cal Poly’s team leader of the project.

“We couldn’t believe that happened,” he said. “We had a choice to make. We could either drop out of the competition or try.”

For the next few hours they worked furiously to reconstruct their UAV, which they call SkyBarge, leading up to the 8 a.m. competition.

Their new design was different from what they’d planned. Their replacement propellers were bulkier. They were using small motors in a way that could make them overheat.

Their pilot, mechanical engineering student Garrett Gudgel, was visibly nervous in the hours leading up to the one-time competition flight, Belyea said.

But during the nerve-wracking route around the room, Gudgel skillfully navigated the craft through an obstacle course of hoops and wickets, hovered over the target drop zone and set free the cargo, a bag of sand. He then returned the craft to the starting point; if he hadn’t, the team would have been disqualified.

“We were hoping to finish the course,” Belyea said. “To get second place was so exciting. We were all so happy to do what we did, especially competing against the caliber of field we had to face.”

The competition included 21 high-powered teams from China, France, India, Peru, Turkey and the U.S.

University of North Dakota took first place and North Carolina State University earned third — rounding out an all-American winner’s circle.

Belyea said that guidance and support from their faculty adviser, Cal Poly mechanical engineering professor Russell Westphal, was instrumental in the victory.

“The sponsors from Boeing there told us this is exactly the kind of thing they want their new employees to have experience in,” Westphal said. “This was a student-driven project. They performed beautifully.”

One of their teammate’s parents, Paul Juhnke, contributed financially to make the trip possible, which Belyea said the team is grateful for.

Besides Belyea and Gudgel, the Cal Poly team included mechanical engineering students Ethan Juhnke, Brandon-Roy Sadiarin, Eric Dreischerf and Seyhun Oh; aerospace engineering students Hank Mandsager and Armand Lim; and agricultural engineering student Shane Thulin.