UAH student’s micro-aerial vehicle wins 2nd place in aeronautics competition

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Thomas Clark, third from left, received his second-place award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. (UAH)

The University of Alabama in Huntsville has already established an amazing reputation among aerospace engineering circles, and graduating senior Thomas Clark recently furthered that impressive reputation in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Regional Student Conferences.

Clark captured second place for his paper outlining his work on a micro-aerial vehicle that can fly like a monarch butterfly. Thomas competed in the Region II Undergraduate Category.

Thomas Clark’s invention explained

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Clark’s project has application on Earth and in space. (AIAA via Facebook)

Clark designed, printed and assembled all the components of his vehicle and he is working on getting it airborne. The vehicle is in its second design version. It has a main body that is 1 inch long by 1 inch wide by 1 inch tall and it weighs 8 grams.

The vehicle is entirely 3D printed. The wings were designed using computerized tomography (CT) scans of actual monarch wings that were then turned into computer assisted design (CAD) models.

Development of a version that is capable of sustaining flight has Clark working in the Autonomous Tracking and Optical Measurements Lab located in UAH’s Olin B. King Technology Hall.

Successful development of these type vehicles would lead to applications on Earth and off, Clark says. On Earth, the vehicles can be used for information gathering and scanning. Due to their small size, many can be carried easily in place of a single large drone.

Off Earth, Clark says that NASA has a project known as the Marsbee that works to develop flapping wing drones for the exploration of Mars. Marsbees are dynamically scaled bioinspired Martian robotic flight vehicles that benefit from scaled up animal flight mechanisms.

“I had won first place for the College of Engineering at UAH’s Research Horizons Day back in March, but I did not think that this would correlate to winning an award at a conference where students from all across the Southeast were presenting their work.”

Thomas Clark, UAH aerospace engineering student

Plans for the future

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Thomas Clark graduates May 2, but will continue the project for his master’s thesis at UAH. (Michael Seale/Hville Blast)

Clark, a Huntsville native, will receive his bachelor’s degree May 2. He is advised by Dr. Chang-kwon Kang, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Dr. Hikaru Aono of the Shinshu University in Japan. Clark will continue the project for his master’s thesis at UAH.

“I intend to do a greater study of the aerodynamics of the vehicle,” Clark said. “This could help others better understand the aerodynamics of flapping wing vehicles and could lead to the development of more such vehicles by others.”

Clark’s work continues a legacy of award-winning research into using the mechanics of butterfly flight to power very small drones by Dr. Kang and by Dr. D. Brian Landrum, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering who died in January, that has been funded by the National Science Foundation and others.

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Michael Seale
Michael Seale
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