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Right now, drone users have a choice. They can fly a fixed-wing plane model with a gas engine and achieve longer flight times, but that requires a large area for take-off and landing. Or they can fly a quadcopter, which takes off and lands vertically, but relies on batteries which limits flight time. We say, why choose? Researchers in our Energy Systems Lab are developing a hybrid powertrain that combines the benefits of an electric motor and gas engine, and delivers easy take-off and longer flight times. UAVs with this technology could have many applications — forest fire spotting, search and rescue, and mapping — and be used to open up new avenues of wildlife research not available before.
To develop and test the hybrid powertrain, the lab needed a small engine test facility. So graduate student Sean Brown built the engine test stand from the ground up — designing it, manufacturing the parts and developing the instrumentation. Brown, who grew up in Corvallis building bottle rockets and spud guns with his dad, was excited for the challenge. The lab is using the engine test stand to find the longest flight time possible with a new kind of engine optimization. After graduating in June, Brown heads to Elon Musk's SpaceX for an internship in propulsion manufacturing. “Being a part of propulsion development feels like being a part of going further and faster than humans have gone before,” said Brown. “That’s what gets me excited.”
The Energy Systems Lab's Unmanned Aircraft System team is led by Chris Hagen, and includes Sean Brown, Agustinus Lawandy, Gertrude Villaverde and Jonathan Young, in collaboration with Tom Herron of Flagline Consulting and Matt Smith of Hatch Product Development. They are investigating vertical take-off and landing using a hybrid powertrain. Their work includes dynamometer engine testing, engine development, UAS aircraft development and hybrid powertrain development.