Apr. 22, 1998 Writer: Aaron Hoover, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Raphael Haftka, (352) 392-9595
PHOTO AVAILABLE at http://www.napa.ufl.edu/ufnews/mavph.htm
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- A police cruiser roars toward the site of a just-reported tornado, but downed trees and rubble quickly make the road impassable.
The officer reaches into his glove box and grabs a tiny airplane and video monitor. Sending the plane aloft, he uses a radio-control handset to pilot it to ground zero, then radios information on damages and casualties to helicopters scrambling to the scene.
The scenario is steadily becoming a reality. At the second annual Micro-Aerial Vehicle Flyoff set for May 9, competitors will fly video camera-equipped airplanes that weigh just over a half-pound and have 12-inch wingspans -- about half the size of last year's entries, said Raphael Haftka, a University of Florida aerospace engineering professor.
Four teams are expected to compete in the flyoff set to begin at 9 a.m. on a field near Archer, about 15 miles southwest of Gainesville. The object is to fly the crafts about a half mile, then beam back a recognizable image of a target to a video screen at the launch site. The winner gets a $1,250 cash prize. There is also $1,250 for the plane with the best design report, awarded as long as the plane is no more than one and a half times the size of the winning craft.
Hosted by UF's Department of Aerospace Engineering, Mechanics and Engineering Science, the four entries are from UF; a university in Milan, Italy; a California-based company; and a New Jersey-based father/son team. The competition is sponsored by the International Society of Structural and Multidisciplinary Optimization.
Haftka said this year's entries are markedly more advanced than last year's.
"Last year's entries were almost an imitation of regular radio-controlled aircraft -- they were just a little bit smaller," Haftka said. "But this year, I think people have spent much more time trying to come up with independent designs."
Last year, UF had the smallest airplane to accomplish the mission, but judges disqualified the craft because it differed too much from the plane in UF's design report, Haftka said. Steve Morris of Palo Alto, Calif., won the contest.
UF team members have high hopes for this year's entry. With two large, stealth bomber-like wings covered with an orange film and a tiny fuselage, it looks like a futuristic biplane. A year in design, the plane will be launched using a 5-foot-long catapult intended to give it the proper launch speed and angle.
"For very small planes, if you do anything wrong at launch, they tend to crash," said Gabriel Torres, a senior and member of the design team.
Funded by the military, several researchers and graduate students at UF are working on creating airplanes as small as insects. While the military sees the planes as battlefield or spying surveillance tools, the technology also has civilian uses. Besides scoping out areas made inaccessible by hurricanes or earthquakes, they could assist police during hostage situations or carry transmitters for mobile phones during blackouts, Haftka said.
As planes shrink, they have more and more difficulty overcoming aerodynamic drag and staying in the air. Funded by the Air Force and Boeing, UF researchers are seeking to get around this problem by engineering moving wings that "pulse" as the vehicle flies.
"The competition is what we can do today; the research is what we can do five years from now," he said.
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