MP Company helps Cadet Capstone Project focused on drones flying near cannons

November 27th, 2020 | In Focus, News and Features
Cadet majors in the Civil and Mechanical Engineering Department at the U.S. Military Academy tackled a project supported by Army Futures Command, U.S. Combat Capabilities Development Center Armaments Center at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. The purpose of the project is to design a small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) that can fly near friendly tanks to help them with targeting.

By Katie Fraine
Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering

Cade majors in the Civil and Mechanical Engineering Department at the U.S. Military Academy are being challenged to solve problems beyond the simple ones they come across in their textbooks. The capstone experience presents cadets with real-world problems that could impact how the Army fights and wins in the future.
The specific project the CME cadets tackled  is supported by Army Futures Command, U.S. Combat Capabilities Development Center Armaments Center (CCDC AC) at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey. The purpose of the project is to design a small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) that can fly near friendly tanks to help them with targeting.
The cadets are responsible for designing, building and testing the drone, a housing on the tank where the drone will land and takeoff, as well the communications between the drone and the tank.
One of the biggest challenges of the project was to ensure that the drone can fly through the shock wave that is emitted from large caliber weapon upon firing.  The purpose of the recent testing was to verify that the drone’s autopilot can stabilize the aircraft despite the shockwave passing over the drone.
On a bright and warm Nov. 4 morning, the West Point Military Police met the cadet team at Range 11 to facilitate testing.  Cadets set up their drones while the MPs set up their 75mm “Pack Gun” cannons that are used during official ceremonies and at Army West Point home football games.
The cadets set up several markers in a semi-circle around the cannons to allow them to fly the drones in a specific pattern near the cannons. First Lt. Alyssa Valdez and the Honor Guard NCOIC, Sgt. Andrew Woehr, prepared the gun crews and conducted rehearsals.  Once everyone was in position, it was time to begin testing.
For each test, the drone pilot, Class of 2021 Cadet Shane Murphy, flew the drone into position and then alerted the cannon crews that he was ready.  The remainder of the cadet team, Class of 2021 Cadets Nathan Batta, Andrew Quantz and Grant Williams confirmed that their pressure sensing equipment was recording data.
“Working on this capstone project has been extremely fulfilling,” Murphy said. “Being able to see knowledge in our major applied to a real project with tangible advantages to Soldiers we will someday lead is awesome.”
Valdez then gave the command, and her crews fired a round from the cannon. The pressure wave was measured by sensitive equipment that the capstone team purchased and used for the project.
“It was a really great experience to be able to do novel experimental testing of a system that we created to better understand how it interacts with the environment in which it will be deployed,” Williams, the team leader, said. “Working with the military police unit for this testing was a great opportunity and one that I learned a lot from.”
Throughout the morning, the cadet capstone team and military police worked diligently and seamlessly to collect multiple data points. Each firing of the cannon brought more information that would be used to apply to real-life battlefield conditions.
The cadet team, which is advised by Lt. Col. Jamie Bluman, associate professor in CME, was grateful for the MPs’ assistance on the project.
“This was a great opportunity to bring several organizations of the West Point community together to accomplish testing that would be hard to do at many other posts,” Bluman said. “The cadet team designed and built the drones, the MPs operated their cannons  and Range Control supported the operation to ensure everything was safe and effective.”
Batta added, “I think the best part of the project was the opportunity to work on a concept that I might see being used in the operational army in the future.”
The project is one of many that are sponsored by CCDC AC at West Point, which have a long and proud history of collaborating on capstone projects and other research initiatives.
The collaboration leverages the strengths of each organization and provides outstanding project opportunities for cadet education and development.  CCDC AC benefits from cadets’ innovative design, fabrication and testing on various projects of interest to Army Futures Command.