Engineering students design, build, soar above competition

June 29, 2010

xipiter2010-300x210Mississippi State students engineer another successful year at the Unmanned Air Systems Competition through teamwork and autonomous flight.

The 10-member student team, named Xipiter, placed second overall at the eighth annual student Unmanned Air Systems Competition by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. They rose above 21 other peer institutions such as Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Rutgers University, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Cornell University.

The aerospace engineering department’s senior flight test engineer, Calvin Walker, said, “It’s a really great feeling when you find out going into the competition that the Air Force is telling the other schools that you are the team to beat.”

“The competition consisted of a journal paper, oral presentation and a flight mission,” said Christopher Edwards, a recent graduate with a master’s in electrical engineering. “Team Xipiter was the only team to place in the top six in each category.”

This is the seventh year that MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering students have participated in the student Unmanned Air Systems Competition. The team placed fifth in 2009 and won first place in 2008. According to Walker, regardless of what place the students finish, the team members’ different engineering backgrounds create a great opportunity for the students to experience how they will work with others to solve problems in the real world once they graduate.

Team leader Eric Hill said, “The team learned a tremendous amount, not just about building an airplane, wiring a system, writing software, or flight test procedures – we learned how to work together as a true multi-disciplinary team.”

“These students are gaining experience in the area of engineering design that provides opportunities in which they can serve their country or provide technical expertise in the private sector,” said Randy Follett, an assistant electrical engineering professor and the team’s faculty adviser. “Unmanned systems are continuing to be more and more important in the battlefield, where they help save lives, and in the private sector, where they reduce costs and expand capabilities.”

Follett explained that the students who have been involved in these competitions throughout the years are able to apply what they learn in class to the project. That experience has made Xipiter alumni even more valuable to employers in the government, military and private corporations, while providing current students with internship opportunities. Walker, the team’s co-adviser, said at least five students who had previously been involved in this competition are now working in the area of unmanned vehicle systems.

“The flight competition this year was an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission in support of Marines on the ground in a simulated battlefield,” Edwards said. “There were targets placed throughout the search area and they had to be identified during our aircraft’s flight.”

The team was able to identify six out of 10 targets. Hill, an industrial engineering major, said that one of the items he believed that kept it from finishing first this year had to do with its cameras and the system not being able to provide high enough resolution photos. Their airplane’s system made target identification a bit more difficult than it could have been.

“Our avionics group is already working on a fantastic solution involving some custom imagery mapping with high-definition cameras,” Hill said. “The team’s winnings this year will also provide a generous budget to improve the overall system next year.”

The team brought home $7,800 in prize money, which the students said they are going to place back into the plane to help ensure another successful year in 2011.

“I am confident in predicting a first place finish for next year,” Walker said. “We’ve learned a lot from this competition and are already making adjustments for next year.”

The student Unmanned Systems Competition is sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the competition took place at Webster Field in Patuxent River, Md. With more than 1,400 member companies and organizations in 50 countries, AUVSI is considered the world’s largest non-profit organization devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems community. With offices located in Arlington, Va., the organization represents professionals in government, industry and academia.

This year’s engineering student team members by hometown:

ARLINGTON, Tenn.—Junior aerospace engineering major Benjamin E. “Ben” Nesbit, son of Michael and Nancy Nesbit.

CALEDONIA—Sophomore aerospace engineering major Jared E. Gates, son of Dennis and Shelley Gates.

COLLIERVILLE, Tenn.—Sophomore aerospace engineering major Anthony J. Favaloro, son of Ronald and Deborah Favaloro.

GERMANTOWN, Tenn.—Christopher D. Edwards, the son of Conan and Pamela Edwards. Before receiving a master’s degree in electrical engineering in May, he graduated, summa cum laude, from MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in the same major.

GULFPORT—Sophomore computer science major Jeffrey J. Morris, son of Lynna Morris of Gulfport and Christopher Morris of Arlington, Texas.

KOSCIUSKO—Senior computer science major Matthew M. Campassi, son of Virginia Carlisle.

MERIDIAN—Freshman aerospace engineering major Alexander C. “Alex” Smith, son of Robert and Annie Smith.

OCEAN SPRINGS—Sophomore aerospace engineering major Austin T. Powell, son of Terry and Medin Powell.

SLIDELL, La.—Senior computer engineering major Rebecca L. Owens, the daughter of William and Theresa Owens.

STERLINGTON, La.—Junior industrial engineering major Eric A. Hill, the son of Dr. Ronald and Shelley Hill.

For more information about the Bagley College of Engineering, see