Welcome to CUAir!

CUAir, Cornell University Unmanned Air Systems, is an interdisciplinary project team working to design, build, and test an autonomous unmanned aircraft system capable of autonomous takeoff and landing, waypoint navigation, and reconnaissance. Some of the team’s research topics include airframe design and manufacture, propulsion systems, wireless communication, image processing, target recognition, and autopilot control systems. Check us out on Facebook and YouTube!

About Us

CUAir is an interdisciplinary project team combining aspects of computer science, engineering, and business. The team aims to provide students from all majors at Cornell with an opportunity to learn about unmanned air systems in a hands-on setting.

CUAir competes in the annual Student Unmanned Air Systems (SUAS) Competition sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) at the PAX River Naval Base in Maryland.

Team Lead

Joel Heck

Derek Faust

Major and Graduation Year: Mechanical Engineering, 2015

Derek is a senior studying mechanical engineering and is currently the team lead for CUAir. He joined the autopilot subteam during the fall of his freshman year and quickly took on a leadership role. CUAir has allowed Derek to branch out and learn about electronics, software, and system design through the close proximity in which all subsystems are developed. Derek is excited to see what the team can do as they make the next step toward a fully automated system. After graduating, he plans to pursue a career at the boundary of mechanical engineering and high technology, potentially delving further into the world of UAVs.


Take a look at what others have written about CUAir.

September 18, 2013 - Special Issue: Peer Review: Project Teams Win First (The Cornell Daily Sun)
July 1, 2013 - Soaring CUAir wins unmanned air systems competition (Cornell Chronicle)
April 8, 2013 - BOOM offers games, gadgets and job opportunities (Cornell Chronicle)
May 24, 2012 - 2012 BOOM Competition (Cornell University)
  • Air System Overview

    Aeolus II, the system developed by CUAir is able to conduct successful missions through the integration of airframe, imagery, and navigation systems. The air system itself is an off-the-shelf Senior Telemaster Plus V2 kit, which has been reinforced for better flight integrity and modified for carrying a payload. A gimbal-mounted Canon Rebel XS Digital SLR camera is used for gathering imagery up to 10.1 megapixels. Image acquisition is controlled on-board the aircraft through a fit-PC2 computer, which can be remotely accessed through a 5.8 GHz wireless bridge. The autopilot used is the Piccolo II from Cloud Cap Technology operating on 900 MHz. Mission planning and aircraft control is managed through Piccolo Command Center (PCC), the application included with the autopilot by Cloud Cap Technology. The Simulated Remote Intelligence Center mobile bridge is established via a 2.4 GHz wireless data connection. Images are sent through the 2.4 GHz wireless bridge to a ground station computer running proprietary targeting software developed by CUAir. The software matches telemetry information received from the PCC to images captured on the plane, and can detect targets through both manual and automatic target recognition.


    Award-Winning Aircraft

    The Cornell University Unmanned Air Systems project team claimed 1st place in Mission as well as a 2nd place Overall finish with the Aeolus II system!


    Flight Clips

  • Air System

    Airframe Overview

    The majority of Hyperion's airframe is constructed of high-strength epoxy-based composite materials including fiberglass, carbon fiber, and kevlar. These materials have very high strength-to-weight ratios, allowing the airframe to be both durable and lightweight. This increases the lifespan of the aircraft, while also extending its flight time.


    The payload, primarily the imaging requirements, is the driving factor in the design of the airframe. As discussed below, the imaging system needs as much coverage of the ground as possible to ensure mission success, therefore the airfoil selection and wing size are designed to meet the calculated optimal cruise airspeed for maximum ground coverage. A non-conventional inverted V-tail was chosen for superior crosswind performance and maneuverability.


    Payload System

    Figure: CAD of main payload components: a DSLR camera mounted on a gimbal.


    Hyperion's payload is designed to accomplish two main tasks defined by the AUVSI SUAS competition: imaging targets and interacting with the Simulated Remote Intelligence Center (SRIC). The main components in the payload are a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera mounted in a custom built, dual axis gimbal, a fit-PC 2 computer, and the wireless antenna for SRIC.


    Our target imaging strategy strives for optimal ground coverage by using medium resolution images taken at regular intervals. This ties into the navigation system, requiring the aircraft to fly over as much of the field area as possible to ensure good coverage. This strategy is highly autonomous, requiring no operator in the loop, and provides the best quality images of the largest area of any methods we investigated, increasing our probability of imaging all of the targets.


    The onboard payload computer is responsible for controlling the camera and gimbal, sending payload data between the air system and ground station, and performing the SRIC task.


    Inverted V-Tail

    Figure: Computer simulation of air flow patterns.


    A non-conventional inverted V-tail was chosen for superior crosswind performance and maneuverability.


    Power System

    Figure: Photo of Hyperion's power boards.


    The Hyperion aircraft and its payload are powered by five Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries. Three 33.3V batteries supply a maximum of 2,800W to a three-phase, brushless motor for propulsion, while an 11.1V and an 18.5V battery power the payload. Two custom regulator circuits ensure that all components receive low-noise power at their appropriate voltages.


    Navigation System

    Figure: Diagram of Cloud Cap Technology's Piccolo Autopilot system network. Image courtesy of Cloud Cap Technology.

    Hyperion is capable of autonomous navigation thanks to the Piccolo II autopilot by Cloud Cap Technology. The on-board autopilot has direct access to the aircraft's flight sensors and controls, and uses a detailed internal model of the flight system to provide stable, controlled flight. Hyperion can navigate a set of GPS waypoints, and is capable of changing flight plans on the fly.



    Ground and Communication Systems

    Ground System

    Figure: CUAir's custom-built target recognition software.


    The Hyperion ground system is a custom built distributed computing system based on a master-slave model. The manual and automatic target searching components, the autopilot navigation ground station, and SRIC communication component are all operated and coordinated by a central Command Center application. This application has many duties, such as sending and receiving information from the aircraft, saving all received data and images from the aircraft in a database, and exporting information about found targets.


    Two applications exist for identifying targets in the images taken by the aircraft. One is a manual target recognition application, which allows one or more users to search through each image taken by the aircraft manually tag targets that are seen. The other application is automatic target recognition, which can autonomously search through the received images and use computer vision techniques to find areas within the images that have a high probability of containing a target.


    Hyperion's ground station has two major communication tasks. The first is the communication between all of the different ground station components. This is achieved using gigabit network switches, which connect all of the ground station computers together through Ethernet.

    The second communication task is maintaining a strong link to the aircraft. This link is maintained using three separate antennas, one 900MHz for the navigation system, and two 5.8GHz Ubiquiti Nanostation antennas mounted on an automatic tracking station that keeps them constantly pointed at the aircraft.


    Communication System

    The communication system is what links the Hyperion Air System to the Ground System, allowing for navigation, target searching, and SRIC operations to be monitored and/or controlled by users. The navigation link uses a 900MHz band, while the SRIC and imaging links use 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz bands respectively.

    Hyperion's communication system is designed to operate at distances of up to a half a mile, while achieving a data rate of 30MBps or greater for the images. Based on the size of the images and rate at which they are taken, a minimum bandwidth of 21.3MBps is required to transfer all of the data in the allotted time. This minimum is exceeded in even the worst case scenario, and data rates can typically reach a maximum of 50MBps during normal operation.


    World Championship Aircraft

    With Hyperion, Cornell University Unmanned Air Systems repeated as the winners of mission performance. Coupled with another first place in journal paper, CUAir claimed its title as World Champions.

  • Air System

    Airframe Overview

    The Helios aircraft is the second fully-custom airframe built by CUAir. Helios uses the same proven aircraft configuration as Hyperion, but features several major improvements that make it a more efficient and user friendly vehicle.

    Helios is almost entirely composed of high-strength composite materials such as carbon fiber and fiberglass. It has a fully-loaded weight of 28 pounds and a wingspan of 9.5 feet. A variety of aerodynamic features in the wings and fuselage reduce drag, helping to increase flight-time.

    The design of Helios makes it a very stable airplane, a beneficial quality for capturing images. Finally, the airframe is user friendly and can be assembled by a single person in less than 10 minutes.

    Helios is almost entirely composed of high-strength composite materials such as carbon fiber and fiberglass. It has a fully-loaded weight of 28 pounds and a wingspan of 9.5 feet.
    Aerodynamic features in the wings and fuselage reduce drag, helping to increase flight-time.
    Inverted V-Tail helps maintain stability and increase maneuverability.

    Another Mission Performance Best

    For the third year in a row, the CUAir team placed first in Mission Performance and ultimately brought home a second place finish overall.

  • Air System

    Airframe Overview

    The Eos air system takes things to a new level. Eos's design features a significant drop in weight and new elements of flight, such as catapult launching and controlled belly landing.

    Like its predecessors, Eos's body is fully composite. With a lighter payload and no landing gear, Eos is CUAir's lightest custom-built aircraft yet at 17 pounds. The airframe's belly is protected by Kevlar fiber to prevent any damage to the airframe and payload during controlled belly landings.

    Eos is powered by a brushless motor. Electricity is provided by two lithium polymer (LiPo) batteries to the propulsion system and onboard computer and autopilot systems.

    Fuselage is made of a Kevlar fiberglass composite with a foam core
    Kevlar reinforced belly protects payload and airframe during belly landing
    Folding prop lies flush with specially designed nosecone to prevent damage during belly landing
    Wings and fuselage remain rigidly connected during flight, but a specially designed sacrificial connection breaks upon a collision between the wings and ground during belly landing permitting the wings to rotate and thus preventing permanent damage.
    -Wings are made of fiberglass composite with foam core and carbon fibre spar reinforcements
    -High aspect wing ratio for efficient flight (minimizes drag, maximizes lift)
    -Wings and Empennage are removable for ease of transport
    Composite reinforced rear cowling protects camera during belly landing

Why CUAir?

  • Incomparable Learning Experience. CUAir provides hands-on experience building a production-quality autonomous aerial vehicle. The techniques and skills learned on the team are not obtainable through coursework alone. You will learn skills like interdisciplinary development, financial management, leadership, and more.
  • Increased Employment Opportunities. CUAir members have experience and a skill set that many of their peers do not have. Employers value this knowledge and actively recruit CUAir members. CUAir also has an extensive relationship with its sponsors, including private information sessions, recruitment visits, and other sponsor-led events.
  • Engineering Community. As a team, we are very involved with the Cornell community, the Ithaca community, and the engineering community. We have numerous team social events and community outreach events. We believe in a culture of engineering excellence, team friendship, and community support.
  • Credit. CUAir members can receive 1-4 course credits for each semester of development work. Some of these credits can be used to fill requirements and electives.
  • Flexibility. The team recognizes that we are all busy Cornell students. We schedule our work sessions and meetings around the schedules of our member to best accommodate everyone. We expect at least 6 hours of work per week, but we are flexible during prelim and finals weeks.

CUAir Members

  • Years: 30-40 Undergraduate students (Freshman-Senior) and up to 1 Graduate student
  • Affiliation and Experience: Enrolled in classes of a relevant major (ECE, MechE, CS, Business, etc.) and have related experience
  • Motivated and Devoted: Members want to give 100% of their time and effort to the team. They are willing to learn and to work hard to help the team succeed
  • Passionate: Interested in autonomous robotics, aerial vehicles, and aviation in general. Some members of the team are full pilots and/or model aircraft pilots
  • Time Commitment: Members typically put in 6-12 hours per week, and some members put in 20+ hours per week. Most members join during their freshman year and stay for all 4 years
  • Credit: Receive 1-4 course credits per semester

Candidates Must Demonstrate

  • They are passionate about aircraft, aviation, and autonomous robotics. They want to join the team to learn more about the field and to contribute to research and development in the field. Members are not on the team for a "resume-line".
  • They can put in the time and effort required to build an autonomous aerial vehicle. Usually it takes a semester or two to get fully trained and integrated with the team. Candidates must demonstrate they can put in 6 hours minimum per week (flexible during prelim weeks and exams) and that they want to contribute to the team for many years to come.
  • They have relevant experience that will help them learn concepts and contribute to the team. Most members do not join the team with autonomous aerial vehicle experience. However, most do have experience relative to their field of interest. For example, computer scientists that join the Software sub-team usually have extensive programming experience. Similarly, mechanical engineers that join the Airframe sub-team have experience with mechanical design, fabrication, and flight concepts. Each sub-team has their own set of expected related experience.
  • They know about the CUAir team. Qualified candidates know what the team is about, how our team is structured, what sub-team they want to join and why, and what to expect once they join the team.

CUAir recruiting for the Fall 2015 semester is now closed. Please check back later for details on future recruiting seasons. Thank you for your interest in CUAir!

Support Us

Thank you sponsors! As an independent student organization, CUAir relies heavily on external sources for funding. Without the generous support of our sponsors, we would not be where we are today: a world-class team in the area of autonomous aircraft design and fabrication. CUAir depends on these contributions to excel and expand our efforts. With this support, we aim to continue our success at the competition next June.

Sponsorship benefits include tax deductable donations, increased recruiting presence on Cornell University's campus, direct access to the CUAir members, and national visibility on both the CUAir website and aircraft.

To learn more about the sponsorship process and the benefits of CUAir sponsors take a look at our sponsorship packet or fill out the "Contact Us" form below.


Current Sponsors
Click on a sponsor's logo to read more about them.


Diamond Sponsors
Cornell University SolidWorks SKB
Portwell Sequoia Capital
Platinum Sponsors
Boeing Procurify
Gold Sponsors
Broadway Lockheed Martin Microsoft
Travis CI
Silver Sponsors
ThunderPower RC
Bronze Sponsors
Molex Parallax
Contact Us

For general questions about the team, recruitment, or sponsorships, please submit the following form and we will contact you shortly.

E-Mail Address

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