uc davis mechanical aerospace engineering graduate student flight research award
Wei, a 3rd year Ph.D. student holding an unmaned aerial vehicle (UAV) in Professor Zhaodan Kong's Cyber-Human-Physical Systems Lab. Photo: Noah Pflueger-Peters/UC Davis.

Ph.D. student Peng Wei wins 2019 N&M Sarigul-Klijn Flight Research/Space Engineering Award

Ph.D. student Peng Wei has been named the recipient of the 2019 N&M Sarigul-Klijn Flight Research/Space Engineering Award. The award is given every other year to top graduate students in the UC Davis Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering pursuing flight-related research.

Wei, a 3rd year Ph.D. student in Assistant Professor Zhaodan Kong’s lab, studies aerodynamic effects on multirotor unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), colloquially known as drones.

Current aerodynamic modeling of drones is derived from data from helicopters, which only have one rotor as opposed to four or six that interact with one another. This leads to controllers based on inaccurate model that can cause flight instability, wasted energy and crashes when flying close to the ground or on windy days.

Wei hopes to change that by looking at the wind and ground effect on multirotor UAV aerodynamics and develop a controller that accounts for these environmental disturbances. Stabilizing flight under these conditions will allow the UAV to achieve better performances for remote sensing and agricultural research while being easier to control and more efficient.

To do this, Wei plans to build his own UAV so he can install sensors on each component. This is an upgrade from using a commercially-produced vehicle because it will allow him to more thoroughly and accurately model the aerodynamic effects and develop a corresponding controller.

“If I can buy and build my own UAV, I can model each component and validate the control algorithm, which would give me more flexibility to implement what I want,” said Wei.

The N&M Sarigul-Klijn Flight Research/Space Engineering Award winners are selected by the UC Davis Space Engineering Research and Graduate Program (SpaceED), directed by Professor Nesrin Sarigul-Klijn, and receive $1,500 to go toward their research. The award was endowed on December 17th, 2003 in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of powered flight.

Previous recipients include Wei’s MAE peer Henry Jia, NASA Ames Research Center aerospace flight systems engineer Sarah D’Souza and Northrop Grumman project test engineer Christopher Davis.

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