EDWARDS, Calif. – 29 June 11
USRP Intern Toys with UAV Technology
By: Heather L. Ogletree
When asked, most interns point to something specific that incited their interest in science and in NASA. For Victor Loera, it was a TV show that sparked his curiosity. He said, “At a young age, I watched inspirational TV shows such as Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and Nova on PBS, which set the foundation for my curiosity in space related engineering and science.” Then when he lived in an apartment complex two miles away from the Los Angeles International airport, he fell in love with planes. Loera mused, “I would sit on the balcony for hours and stare with wonder at these giant metal machines which flew gracefully through the sky.”
This spring, Loera was given the opportunity to bring his two passions together when he was selected to become part of the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) family at NASA’s Dryden Research Facility. With NASA John Ryan at his side, Loera participated in a 15 week project entitled, “SUAV Auto GCAS,” which stands for small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Ground Collision Avoidance System.
He explained, “My project consists of maintaining and troubleshooting hardware such as a small UAV, ground control station, and a portable cockpit in the lab. Additionally, I am the ground control station operator during the almost weekly flight tests. It is truly wonderful when one’s day is spent flying at an airstrip.” The automatic GCAS was previously flight tested on F-16s at Dryden in 2010 and the overall purpose of Loera’s project was to flight test the GCAS algorithms on small UAVs. Through his time with Ryan, Loera discovered, “The impact of the auto-GCAS project is grand since it will influence all facets of aviation, which can vary from safety of UAVs flying over civilian airspace to preventing crashes and saving lives in military and general aviation.”
While at Dryden, the senior aerospace engineering major from California State Polytechnic University also developed “clear and concise manuals along with checklists to be used during flight tests” because he was passionate about maintaining “smooth flight operations.”
Before accepting his USRP internship, Loera worried about missing two quarters of senior coursework at his university, but he said, “The opportunity to work at a NASA research center on a full-time project that is relevant to my aspirations and career goals quickly outweigh[ed] this burden.” And now that he has completed his first term at Dryden, Ryan has asked Loera back for 10 more weeks as part of USRP’s summer 2011 class.
After he graduates next year, Loera hopes to end up with a job in flight control at NASA or at an aerospace industry company in southern California.
Loera concluded, “My NASA USRP internship...has been an incredible experience because every day I had the privilege of seeing the newest state-of-the-art unmanned aerial vehicles along with historic research aircraft.”