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No fuel, no pilot, no problem: perpetual flight

An interdisciplinary team of Lehigh students and faculty is developing a vehicle designed and programmed to achieve perpetual flight and make good on the centuries-old notion of" dynamic soaring."

Dynamic soaring of birds was first described by Lord Rayleigh in 1883, and over time it's been studied in various capacities as a way to propel aircraft. Now, under the guidance of Lehigh associate professors Joachim Grenestedt of mechanical engineering and John Spletzer of computer science and engineering, and colleagues from Penn State, the team is developing the structure and the software to make it happen. are in the works for low-altitude tests with a model sailplane later this year.

Toward that end, Grenestedt, an internationally-regarded researcher in composite structures, recently completed a 21-foot-long wing of carbon-fiber composite designed to withstand the rigors of jet-stream travel. It's no small engineering feat: to fly above 20,000 feet, the vehicle must be able to withstand speeds of up to 300 mph and forces of up to 20 g.

The project has captured attention from Popular Science, Unmanned Systems Technology, Design News, and WFMZ-69 News.

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uav model

An artists rendering of the unmanned aerial vehicle proposed by Grenestedt and Spletzer.