By Staff | 3Ders
Engineers at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, along with a team of student interns have successfully constructed a custom-build aircraft using 3D printed parts and components from surplus unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The components they used are from Aerovironment RQ-14 Dragon Eye UAVs that NASA acquired from the United States Marine Corps. The Dragon Eye aircraft can penetrate the dangerous airspace within the plume of the volcanoes because they are not affected by the contaminated air. The unmodified, small electric aircraft weigh 5.9 pounds, have a 3.75-foot wingspan and twin electric motors, and can fly for an hour while carrying a one-pound instrument.
The team modified Dragon Eyes by harvesting spare parts from other Dragon Eyes and reassembling them along with specially designed 3D printed parts to create new aircraft. Their goal is to increase payload capacity and endurance for use in Earth Science missions. The NASA team called this modified Dragon Eye UAV "FrankenEye", referring to Frankenstein.
The team used 3D printers at Ames and Stanford to create prototypes and make conceptual models, and 3D scanning to design the interface to existing hardware, and create mechanical drawings.
In order to extend flight time, the final designs featured longer and more slender wings and dual fuselages. New parts including wing sections, nose cones, winglets, control surfaces, wing ribs and even propellers were 3D printed. The wing sections were reinforced using carbon fiber tubing or aluminum rods to give them extra strength without adding significant weight.
"The more weight we carry in material is less weight we can carry in sensors or batteries," said Kevin Reynolds, principal investigator of the FrankenEye project at Ames. "Dragon Eyes can fly approximately one hour using the existing lithium-ion battery. But with two fuselages – meaning two batteries – and a more efficient wing design that allows it to fly slower and conserve energy, our variants can fly up to three times as long using electric power."
Multiple small converted Dragon Eye UAVs, including the specialized and highly modified "FrankenEye" platform, will be used to study the chemistry of the eruption plume emissions from Turrialba volcano, near San Jose, Costa Rica. The goal is to improve satellite data research products, such as computer models of the concentration and distribution of volcanic gases, and transport-pathway models of volcanic plumes.
"The use of UAVs to carry out potentially hazardous sampling of volcanic gas emissions sharply reduces risk to volcano researchers," said Volcanologist David Pieri of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who leads the Costa Rican Airborne Research and Technology Application 2015 mission. ."Such data alsowillbe used to help mitigate risk for people living on or near active volcanoes and for passengers and crews flying over them."
"This project is very exciting for us because it has demonstrated a new capability for quickly and inexpensively modifying existing aircraft to tailor them to specific mission goals," said Matt Fladeland, Ames co-investigator on the FrankenEye and Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) validation projects. "In this case the modified aircraft will be able to stay up longer while carrying more science payload over the volcano."
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