AME fire forces students' copter project off campus

By Bryan Hance
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 9, 1996

Smoke damage to the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering building has forced a group of AME students to move their flying machine off campus and onto the ranch of their faculty sponsor.

A fire in the AME building at 1302 E. North Campus Drive Sunday destroyed a second-floor room containing four faculty offices and a conference room. The structure of the building itself contained the fire and limited damages, but, according to the UA's Risk Management and Safety office, smoke and debris affected areas in most of the building's east end.

Since August, six students have been working on the UA's first entry into the International Aerial Robotics Competition. They are equipping a model helicopter to complete a series of tasks without the aid of human intervention or guidance.

The contest requires the helicopter to map out and identify barrels placed within an arena, as well as pick up a small disk.

"This is at the cutting edge; what they're trying to do is extremely difficult," said retired AME professor and faculty sponsor Russell Petersen, whose five-acre ranch has become the machine's testing grounds.

Bench testing for the helicopter has been relocated to the home of Frank Manning, which is near Petersen's ranch. Petersen is the Tucson director of technical activities for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a professional group who funded the UA student branch responsible for the project.

Petersen's ranch is not totally foreign to the group. An earlier test to determine the helicopter's capabilities was conducted there in December, Petersen said.

Test pilot and aeronautical engineering junior David DeLean said the move doesn't pose a problem for future work.

"It's not that big of a concern," he said, noting that he previously drove a longer distance to work with another project member.

Further flight testing will be performed on the ranch, Manning said, because the helicopter's flying ability is still being perfected.

"Right now it's just a regular helicopter," he said.

The machine will be outfitted with a Global Positioning System, or GPS, which was loaned to the group by a local company, Petersen said. The GPS will guide the helicopter.

Petersen said he has not yet warned his neighbors about the helicopter, but feels that it will not be necessary because of the size of his ranch.

"It's not going to go that far," he said. "The only hazard is if the thing crashes and breaks that $20,000 GPS system."