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Engineering Students Take First Place Award With Autonomous Aircraft Design

Two ONU senior mechanical engineering students recently took first place at a regional student conference with their senior capstone project. Nick Schifer of Bucyrus, Ohio, and Matt Schuster of Worthington, Ohio, recently traveled to the Region 3 student conference of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) to present a report on the project. This year, the conference was hosted by the AIAA chapter at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When it was over, Schifer and Schuster had garnered first place in the “Undergraduate Presentation Only” category.

The students, along with the final member of the group, computer engineering senior Brian Tomko of Stow, Ohio, took upon themselves the task of designing, building, and flying an autonomous radio-controlled aircraft. The goal of the project was to build a model airplane capable of flying a pre-programmed pattern using onboard computer control, with no intervention from the pilot on the ground. The onboard computer is programmed with GPS waypoints to be followed during the flight. A GPS system, as well as altitude and attitude sensors provide feedback to the computer, and the guidance system then adjusts the control surfaces to steer the aircraft and correct its path and altitude. Flight data, as well as in-flight video from a nose-mounted video camera are downlinked to a computer on the ground for recording.

Schifer and Schuster were responsible for the design and construction of the airframe and propulsion system. Tomko’s area of responsibility included the flight control system.

Schifer and Schuster presented a summary of their project at the AIAA conference, and received the first place award. The same weekend, Tomko presented his portion of the project, the computer control system, to an audience at the North Central Section Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education.


From left to right are Nick Schifer, Matt Schuster and Brian Tomko.

Students with model airplane