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New Mexico State University

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College of Engineering recipient of $200,000 Northrop Grumman RMAX helicopter

It's kind of like Christmas in February and Northrop Grumman is Santa Claus bringing a $200,000 Yamaha RMAX Remote Control Helicopter Feb. 17 to New Mexico State University's College of Engineering.

The state-of-the-art UAV (Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle) is part of Northrop Grumman's overall initiative to advance interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers. NMSU is one of only three universities to which Grumman is donating the helicopters. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly Pomona are the other universities receiving a similar UAV.

"We are very pleased with the donation of the RMAX unmanned helicopter to NMSU," said Steven P. Castillo, dean of the College of Engineering. "It will give our students an unprecedented opportunity to work on a state-of-the-art UAV platform - both for research and educational purposes."

The vehicle will be presented to the university in a ceremony that will take place at 10 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 17, at the Horseshoe area of the NMSU campus in Las Cruces. Carl Johnson, vice president for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems and Rob Sheehan, director of flight test engineering and operations, will be present at the ceremony. Dean Castillo and Ou Ma, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NMSU, will receive the gift.

The RMAX Type II remote-controlled helicopters measure an estimated 12 feet in length by 6.5 feet wide and 4 feet in height. The vehicles are typically used for observation purposes in agriculture and forestry. Manufactured by Yamaha, the remote R-50, with a payload of 20 kilograms or 44 pounds, in 1987 reportedly became the first practical-use, unmanned helicopter in the world to be used for crop dusting.

The vehicle is controlled by means of commands sent from a specially programmed personal computer at the ground base to control the helicopter's position, flight direction and speed. It has a flight range of about two kilometers and a continuous autonomous-flight time capability of 1.5 hours at speeds of more than 15-20 kilometers per hour or 9-12 miles per hour.

"This is known as one of the most advanced remote-controlled helicopters around," Ma said. "I have been working in aerospace and I know how sophisticated this aircraft is. There are many things we can do with this platform, but we will mainly use it to teach students flight dynamics and control in both component and system levels. On the research side, we would like to use the platform to test new sensing and flight control technologies." Ma's main expertise is in robotics and believes this will help the students learn the many different components used to create such a system.