Our airframe team is responsible for designing and manufacturing the composite airframe and peripherals such as the launcher and camera gimbal. We are in the process of fabricating a new plane with wet layup carbon fiber for the fuselage and prepreg carbon for the wings.
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The air drop payload must reliably deliver the payload at the desired time. Having a predictable system will allow us to compensate for any lag time between triggering the mechanism and release of the payload, enabling us to plan for more precise drops. The center of gravity of the plane before and after the drop must be taken into account in order to ensure a smooth, continuous flight.
Building a launcher would provide a robust method of getting the plane into the air regardless of the runway conditions. Consistently taking off from the ground will reduce the amount of time the team needs to spend on the flight line repositioning the plane due to the poor condition of the runway or waiting for particularly favorable wind conditions. This will reduce risk of damage to the aircraft during takeoff, one of the most dangerous moments during the flight.
The airframe team cooperates with the embedded team to produce a camera gimbal for stabilization. The gimbal will be capable of 2-axis stabilization to compensate for pitch and roll of the plane when in flight. Stabilization will help produce more precise images, increasing the likelihood that any targets in the field of view will be detected and identified. Additionally, control in these two directions will allow camera to sweep a wider area for targets that may be off the direct flight path, reducing the number of passes that must be made to cover the same area.
The greatest challenge of the airframe team is designing and manufacturing an aircraft that can carry all the necessary equipment of the Airframe, Embedded, and Software teams. By utilizing composite materials, the weight of the plane is minimized compared to other materials while maintaining structural integrity. Manufacturing is performed in by producing plugs, molds, and eventually completed parts. 3D printing is used on smaller components that are difficult to manufacture using traditional methods.