Students building vehicle for Air Force

When many GW students take a part-time job, it involves answering phones, filing documents and stuffing envelopes. But when Kemp Kernstine found a part-time job, he ended up overseeing an integral part of a research project funded by the U.S. Air Force.

Kernstine, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering with a concentration in aerospace engineering, is the leader of a project supervised by professor David Chichka. The project, funded by a three-year grant from the Air Force’s Office of Scientific Research, consists of building an unmanned aerial vehicle out of balsa wood and plywood.

“We’re building a prototype for more aerodynamic planes,” Kernstine explained. “Right now we want something to experiment on.”

The vehicle is being assembled in Staughton Hall by a team consisting of Kernstine and five other undergraduate engineering students. When finished, the vehicle will be 12 to 15 feet long, weigh 50 pounds and be capable of reaching speeds of 50 miles per hour.

Kernstine hopes that the vehicle will be used by the Air Force in a variety of applications. “The Air Force plans on using the vehicle for a photo-capturing project where the plane would mimic the plane ahead of it rather than using GPS,” he said.

Kernstine first got involved in the project last year, when it was started by Chichka and undergraduate Adam Nadel. After Nadel graduated in May, Kernstine became the natural choice for the position of team leader.

“He was the most reliable, and the most dedicated, of all the students involved,” Chichka said. So dedicated, in fact, that Kernstine spent the summer at GW working on the project. “(The project) hadn’t gotten to the point that I wanted it,” Kernstine explained. Because of his team’s diligent work, Kernstine hopes to launch the vehicle in late February – long before the deadline in May.

“Kemp has an amazing work ethic,” said junior Courtney Moore, who is in charge of building the vehicle’s fuselage. “If there is something he needs to know to get the job done, he learns it – and fast.”

“(Kernstine) keeps me motivated to work harder,” said sophomore Corey Walker, who is involved in the project.

Kernstine has participated in a variety of endeavors in addition to the unmanned vehicle. He is working with professor Charles Garris in supersonic flow research and is leading another student team under the supervision of Professor Ker-Jia Lu to develop dynamic wings that change shape in mid-flight. Supersonic flow typically occurs when objects travel faster than the speed of sound.

Kernstine is also the vice president of the GW chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronomics and a member of three different engineering competition teams: the steel bridge team, the robot team and the mini baja team, which designs off-road vehicles.

Kernstine explained his packed schedule with a shrug. “I like to stay busy.”

-Michael Barnett contributed to this report.

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