Applied Composites Engineering

Applied Composites Engineering & Unmanned Systems Technology International Partnership

by Kelly Wallace, Applied Composites Engineering

16 March 2015 - As the UAS industry grows, Applied Composites Engineering (ACE), based in Indianapolis, Ind., has been working to provide composite solutions for the U.S. Department of Defense and private companies.

ACE began working in the UAS industry more than 10 years ago, when the company was contracted to manufacture SAR components for the Predator. ACE also manufactures multiple components for the Fire Scout MQ-8C, an unmanned helicopter system with the payload and cargo carrying capabilities of the Bell 407 helicopter, as well as engine shrouds for the TigerShark, a composite UAS with a wingspan of 17.5 feet.

But recently, ACE moved beyond making individual components to collaboratively designing and manufacturing an entire UAS structure - the MX-1.

The MX-1 was initially designed by Unmanned Systems Technology International (USTI), a company based in Monterrey, Mexico that approached ACE at a UAS trade show. At the time, the company had already constructed a prototype out of plywood, foam, and fiberglass, but they were in need of a composites manufacturer who could turn their design into a composites structure and develop tooling for production. They needed the UAS, at 9 feet 8 inches long with a nearly 20-foot wingspan, to be lighter, faster, more durable, and increased endurance.

After obtaining a TAA with the U.S. Department of State, ACE was able to use its composites expertise to design a composite structure in just over seven months, which matched the Outer Mold Line required by USTI while being constructed of advanced composites of high strength and light weight. This process included the use of Finite Element Analysis software to determine whether the number and position of carbon fiber plies would provide the required strength and durability. ACE also designed cost-effective tooling for the project.

ACE delivered the first MX-1 to USTI in March 2014, weighing in at just 65 pounds. A second MX-1 was delivered in November 2014. USTI presented the MX-1 to the Mexican media. In less than 24-hours, USTI was featured in many publications within their state of Nuevo Leon and internationally via social media.

Editor's note: Reprinted with permission from the Naval Postgraduate School's CRUSER News.