Unmanned craft to deliver coin to football field

MURFREESBORO — The delivery of the coin for the toss at Saturday’s MTSU football game could be one of the school’s most unique.

As part of the school’s 100th anniversary, a group of aerospace and engineering students from the Middle Tennessee Unmanned Aircraft Systems Club will fly a radio-controlled “quad-copter” to the big blue “MT” at the center of Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium where the referee will retrieve the coin from the top of the craft. Then the aircraft will be flown off the field.

Even the special coin that will be used is adorned with the name of the MTSU department this club was born out of: The Center for Unmanned Systems Operational Advancement and Research.

“This is a way to show the community some of the things we are doing with robotics and unmanned systems,” said Brett Bornhoft, an aerospace engineering technology major, and a member of the club. “We are on the forefront of this unmanned systems thing.”

Bornhoft was joined Friday morning on the field by students Steve Lawn, Andres Gomez and Brent Taylor to demonstrate to local media the RC practice flight of the quad copter.

The quad-copter gets its name from having four propellers at the end of four arms extending evenly from a central electronic body.

The club — which includes at least eight members — bought the copter and upgraded it themselves with the wiring and attachments needed to have much greater autonomous flying capabilities.

The club is working on programming it — done heavily by Gomez — so that it can fly autonomously without anyone at the radio controls. They plan to enter a similar aircraft in the International Aerial Robotics Competition in Grand Forks, N.D., in August 2012.

You might say the pressure Saturday is mostly on Lawn, who will be at the RC controls of the craft to deliver the coin.

But he said he’s not nervous. As a pro pilot, he’s done this kind of thing before while working for a company that built unmanned helicopters in which he was a test pilot and lead integrator.

MTSU is one of the few schools in the country that’s pursuing an Unmanned Aerospace Systems degree.

If you want to witness the student flight demonstration, MTSU will play a home game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at 2 p.m. Saturday.