Design Spotlight: McGill Aero

By Celia Hameury

Aerospace is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and significant fields of engineering. While McGill may not yet have an engineering bachelors dedicated to aerospace engineering alone, it does have McGill AERO, an innovative design team composed of over 60 members, which unites undergraduate students of all disciplines sharing the passion for aerospace and allowing them to gain hands-on experience in this incredible field.

From drones to larger aircrafts, McGill AERO designs and builds a wide variety of flying vehicles. This year, McGill AERO’s projects include:

  1. SAE AERO Micro
  2. SAE AERO Advanced
  3. Drones (Unmanned Systems Canada)
  4. Special Project: Solar Drone

The first two of the projects were entered in the SAE Aero Design East competition, in Lakeland, Florida, from March 9th to 11th, after much testing and mission preparation. The SAE Micro is an electric aircraft which is piloted remotely and carries a payload. With a wingspan of 1.2 meters, this is McGill AERO’s smaller aircraft. Indeed, the SAE Advanced is much larger, with a  wingspan of 3.5 meters and a carrying capacity of 15 pounds. This aircraft can even drop dynamic payloads from the air.

McGill AERO also has a drone team, which focuses on developing highly autonomous, unmanned aerial systems which are capable of completing specific missions. These compete in the Unmanned Systems Canada student competition, in Southport, Manitoba, from May 4th to 6th . This year, the competition’s mission revolves around the use of aerial mapping, site surveying and payload delivery and recovery within the context of law enforcement. In order to successfully complete these complex tasks, the McGill team will use a large hexacopter and a quadcopter operating jointly along with integrated advanced imagery, target acquisition and communications systems. In the last few weeks, McGill AERO has further worked on improving the hexacopter’s electronics and camera gimbals system and added numerous other technological updates, including a more streamline power distribution system.
The last project is the Solar Drone, which is a special design created to push the boundaries of flight by using solar energy to power the vehicle. This aircraft boasts a wingspan of four meters and weighs five kilograms. This unmanned aerial vehicle further offers a long range of flight and high endurance. The full aircraft was assembled over the last month and the team has since then  been focusing on non-aerial operational testing of components to obtain critical flight data.

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