Pneumatic Model Plane Launching System

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Zhong, Allen
Beggs, Benjamin
Viloria, Chris
Fisker, Desiree
Fisman-Guarascio, JJ
Lahteenmaa-Swerdlyk, Timo
When launching model planes, hobbyists typically rely on their own physical ability to throw the model and facilitate launches. This introduces inconsistencies in launch angle, trajectory, and initial speed, affecting the quality of launch. Further, hobbyists with physical accessibility considerations may struggle to launch a model plane by hand. This report details the design, construction and testing of a pneumatic, automated launch mechanism that can reduce the inconsistencies introduced by manual launch and increase accessibility for hobbyists with physical limitations. This automated launch mechanism provides more repeatable flight trajectories, allows for launch angle adjustment, is safe for hobbyist use, and is convenient to use in its size, weight, and interface. The design was broken into composite systems of chassis, pneumatic mechanism, electrical circuit, and microcontroller software. It was prototyped with a minimum viable product providing proof-of-concept of the design’s function. Systems were designed in parallel with specialized sub-teams using modelling, computer-aided design tools, and integration requirements to inform design choices. The minimum viable product contained a wooden chassis with a model plane held in a 3D printed launch mount traveling along a rail guide. A stepper motor allowed for rotation of the rail guide to manipulate launch angle with the angle value being displayed on an LCD. Both the stepper rotation and fire mechanism were controlled by button presses using an Arduino microcontroller and an electrical circuit. These buttons and the LCD were assembled on the chassis face at the rail guide’s tail end. The final system prototype was operational with the exception of an electrical circuit wiring failure produced while transporting the system that broke the subsystem’s function. Project goals quantifying launch consistency, launch angle adjustment, system weight, and launch safety were met. Launch distance failed to meet its quantitative target, travelling a maximum of eight feet against a target of ten feet. It is hypothesized that this underperformance is caused by the slow actuation of the piston in the pneumatic system limiting mechanical impulse and the recoil of the rail guide during launch producing energy losses. For actual usage of this system, it is recommended that the electrical systems be weatherproofed for safety, the electrical circuit be replicated on a PCB for reliability, and a battery system be installed for portability. To increase the utility of the design, the launch mount should also be iterated with adjustable clasp dimensions to launch multiple plane models.
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