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Ohio State sets world speed record for unmanned aerial vehicle

The Ohio State University Aerospace Research Center set a world speed record for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) of any size, pending verification.

In a path over Lake Erie, Ohio State’s UAV flew autonomously with sustained average speeds of 147 mph over an out-and-back course approximately 28 miles long, which also set a record for the longest UAV flight over an out-and-back course.

Led by Ohio State Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering’s Professor Jim Gregory and Research Scientist Matt McCrink, the university’s team collaborated with Ligado for the satellite communications and with uAvionix for the ADS-B transponder.

Integral to the mission, Gregory said, was the involvement and advice from faculty and researchers in Ohio State’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and ElectroScience Laboratory (ESL).

“Our fundamental concern was maintaining the control link throughout the flight,” Gregory said. “Testing in ESL's compact range provided data on the antenna radiation patterns, giving us confidence that this would work.”

One of the largest radio frequency and optics research laboratories in the world, ESL conducts research in all aspects of electromagnetic and RF technologies, including satellite and ultra-wide-bandwidth communications, optics, remote sensing, ground penetrating radar systems, antenna engineering and more. Researchers are also pursuing a number of emerging areas, such as those related to bioelectromagnetics, metamaterials, polymers and packaging, micro-device modeling and multi-physics engineering.

The Ohio State-designed jet UAV is uniquely equipped to handle this mission, with custom-built flight controller, long-range fuel tanks, redundant radio control links, control via satellite communications link, and ADS-B in/out transponder technology for avoiding collisions with other aircraft.

The record flight occurred on Wednesday, August 30, from Kelleys Island Airport, Kelleys Island, Ohio, with the course extending to the east over Lake Erie. The Ohio State team of engineers overcame technical challenges such as fuel limits for the 17-minute flight, radio range for maintaining positive vehicle control, and collision avoidance. The 70-pound autonomous jet aircraft opens up new capabilities for applications such as rapid package delivery or search-and-rescue, where both high speed and long range are mission critical.

“Setting a world speed record is a fantastic way to push technology forward,” Gregory said. “Aviation records have a rich legacy going all the way back to the Wright brothers, and we’re building on that tradition. We’re hoping to spearhead a competitive technology push for higher speed, longer range, and enhanced safety for UAVs.”

The official record is pending review and certification by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) and by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). An official observer representing the NAA was present for take-off and landing.

The Ohio/Indiana UAS Center was instrumental in supporting the record attempt by coordinating FAA approval through a Certificate of Authorization/Waiver (COA). This lengthy process involved many safety reviews of the airspace, operating procedures, vehicle systems, chase plane operation and contingency planning. An effective collaboration with the test center and the FAA resulted in a safe record-setting flight. 

Ohio State is a world-leader in the area of UAV technology and policy. Over 40 faculty are actively involved in research related to UAVs, spanning the domains of all-weather operations (robust flight in wind gusts and icing), flight testing, human factors, control link security, precision agriculture, regulatory policy, navigation system performance, vehicle control and networked operations. Ohio State also is a core member of the FAA ASSURE Center of Excellence, with a research focus to enable safe and efficient integration of UAVs into the National Airspace System.

In 2014, Ohio State and Sinclair Community College formed a partnership to prepare students for careers in the unmanned aircraft systems industry, which is expected to grow to $100 billion by 2025. There are now pathways from existing Sinclair Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) certificate and associate degree programs into Ohio State data analytics and geospatial precision agriculture programs. Last year the partners acquired FAA COA to operate UAS at The Ohio State University Airport in northwest Columbus.