Unmanned & Autonomous Vehicle Lab

Directed by: Dr. Drew Landman

ODU SAE Aero Design

The Unmanned and Autonomous Vehicle Laboratory was created in the Fall of 2015 to support senior capstone project teams competing in the SAE Aero Design competition. Teams were successful and logged top-three finishes. In recent years the focus has shifted to design of unique Small Uncrewed Autonomous Aerial  System (sUAS) designs and education in sUAS. In addition, the laboratory is used to design and support air and surface vehicles for sponsored undergraduate and graduate research projects.

Freshmen through Junior undergraduate students are encouraged to join the volunteer lab group and learn to build and fly small uncrewed aircraft. We will train you.

SAE Aero Design

SAE Aero Design challenges students to build a radio-controlled aircraft to carry a maximum payload within size and power limitations. An annual competition is held with participation from 75 universities including many international entries.  Here are some highlights from past competitions. Click here to learn more about the competition. 

Gryphon a Flying Wing – Based Uncrewed Aerial System

The student capstone project for the 2022-23 school year was sponsored by the well-known UAS company AeroVironment. The scope of the project required assistance from graduate students Rob Stuart and Phil Mantz who led the undergraduates under advisor Dr. Drew Landman to create the Gryphon UAS.  In this project, students were tasked with developing a low-cost, modular, reusable, (non-lethal) platform for swarming (flying multiple aircraft simultaneously) that is easy and quick for a few people to set up, deploy, run a mission, recover, and re-use.

AeroVironment specified requirements for a fixed-wing electric-powered UAV for use with Search and Rescue (SAR) and military reconnaissance missions:

  • 6-8S Lithium-Ion battery with brushless electric motor power
  • Autonomous flight capability including launch, GPS waypoint navigation and landing
  • A Pixracer/Ardupilot autopilot with GPS, Wifi, air speed, magnetometer, S-Bus, RC radio input, and power monitoring brick
  • The UAS shall operate at an altitude up to 1500 m and over a temperature range of 10-35C
  • A minimum of 20 m/s cruise speed is desired with a target cruise speed of 30 m/s for a flight range of 20 km (maximum speed desired is 40 m/s)
  • Launch within 10 minutes of initial setup
  • Recovery to relaunch time of 20 minutes
  • Recovery within 20 m of designated landing area (original specified no runway but did not prohibit net capture – alter changed to no net capture and some open landing area avaialble)
  • Launch and recovery tolerant of up to 3.5 m/s wind speed
  • A 300 gm modular payload with a 20W power requirement [3][7][8]. 
  • The aircraft should be compact, allowing up to 10 aircraft and their launcher to fit in the bed of a pickup truck.

Virginia Space Grant Consortium – Innovative Project 2023

Old Dominion University’s (ODU) Unmanned and Autonomous Vehicle Laboratory acquired several FQM-117B airframes, which were previously developed for the U.S. Army as radio-controlled miniature aerial targets (RCMATs) resembling MiG-27s. Following this, the airframes were repurposed for in-flight control experiments at NASA Langley Research Center before finally being gifted to ODU. The state of the airframes upon receipt by the ODU rendered them unflyable, largely due to aging and missing components.

The purpose of this VSGC-sponsored project was to provide real-world, hands-on, engineering experience for a team of undergraduate students who take an interest in unmanned aerial vehicles.  The objective was to refit the  FQM-117B airframes with a modern powerplant, autopilot, and improved components.

  • Overhaul an FQM-117B with modern RC electronics and test fly the aircraft to assess potential improvements.
  • Implement an autonomous control system on a second FQM-117B using an ArduPilot based flight controller (autopilot).
  • Address perceived, poor low-speed handling characteristics of the FQM-117B by redesigning the detachable wing using computational aerodynamic and structural modeling and analysis.
  • Demonstrate fully autonomous flights including take off, waypoint navigation, and landing.
  • Provide students the opportunity of a pilot experience with a small RC model under stabilized control.


Interested in using the Unmanned and Autonomous Vehicle Laboratory? Contact Dr. Drew Landman for additional information.