by Larry Barello (c) August 2000 - Edited by Steven D. Kaehler
I was down in SE Oregon last week hanging out near the Alvord Desert (5 mi x 15 mi dry lake bed) and met some fellows testing out a robotic airplane! It turns out to be the same folks who did the trans-Atlantic autonomous flight last year. They were adding a satellite transceiver to the plane so it could be remotely operated via satellite. They were launching out in the desert (no one around to hit) and it was being controlled from Hood River, OR. Judging from the web site, the satellite link is for real-time data gathering when the plane is in use flying into hurricanes, etc.
It was way cool. The processor is an 68332; The motor is a highly customized Enya model airplane motor with a generator attached (to run the electronics) and it has a 40 hour run time with a full fuel load. They built a custom oilier so it doesn't use a regular fuel oil mix (maximize fuel load) Current developments, besides the sat link, is a fuel injected motor and more highly miniaturized electronics. The electronics package includes two piezo gyros, static and ram air pressure sensors, engine RPM and who knows what else. There is a down link to a laptop where they can override the autonomous stuff and fly it like an R/C plane. The planes I saw in OR, had miniature weather stations mounted on the wings (temp, humidity and something else). Because of the extra weight of the satellite receiver there were two 1/4" allen wrenches duct taped to the tail - that's robotics! It was pretty funny watching these guys hacking away at the wing with files to make room for the antennas (they were testing several) and soldering up cables. Just like a booth at Robothon!
The plane body is about 1/4 motor, 1/4 electronics package and the rest a huge fuel bladder.
The original development was done at the UW and Hood River, OR. But now the company is run out of Australia.
I took some pictures while I was there (click on an image for a larger
But the main company web site gallery is much better: