From researcher to faculty member and fundamental to flight test
Matthew McCrink, PhD, has already been a facet of aerospace research at The Ohio State University for five years, yet in August 2022 he embarked on a new trajectory. An alumnus of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering program, McCrink worked his way from doctoral student to his latest role: research assistant professor.
The title may be new, but the work is not. McCrink is recognized as an innovator in uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones. Through his tireless leadership, he established drone research at Ohio State, propelling the university to become internationally preeminent in the field. His extensive list of projects – totaling an estimated $6 million in research over the years – has grown to encompass topics spanning fundamental to flight test.
In addition, McCrink is the faculty advisor for Buckeye Vertical, an undergraduate student organization aimed at exploring and competing in the areas of advanced air mobility (AAM) and urban air mobility (UAM).
Being selected to join the faculty ranks will enable McCrink to further his lab’s reach. “This is a good opportunity to lead research to develop safer, more efficient UAVs and drones and their integration into the national air space,” he said.
Detect and avoid: Enhancing central Ohio safety
A small, but dedicated team of researchers and graduate students led by McCrink are the force behind some of the newest technologies in the skies. Together they are partnering to build and deploy hardware and software aimed at improving Ohio’s highways and skyways.
Since 2018 they have joined with the Ohio Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), DriveOhio/FlyOhio, Ohio Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Center and industry to develop and deploy a detect and avoid system to track drones. This public service intends to keep drones from colliding with aircraft that operate at lower altitudes, such as medical helicopters or crop dusters. The collaborative project, which marks a first in an urban setting, was recently announced.
“The promise of drone deliveries has been around for some time, but that key infrastructure to support that has not existed,” McCrink commented. Ohio Department of Transportation “is at the forefront of essentially establishing what that infrastructure looks like, how we can scale it, grow it and incorporate it with the existing manned traffic control systems as well”.
Soaring to new heights
As a research assistant professor, McCrink enjoys the opportunity to be involved in not only theoretical investigations, but also lab-based testing. The Aerospace Research Center, where his lab is located, houses multiple scale and full-scale wind tunnels. Here, McCrink and his team design, build and test UAVs.
After the drones are refined in the lab, McCrink, a certified Part-107 drone operator, takes the aircraft to one of the university’s FAA-approved outdoor testing facilities. There, he and the team perform flights in various conditions, collecting real-time information that will be used to further fine-tune systems.
Projects utilizing this approach include Ohio State’s world record-setting UAV, a fixed-wing drone capable of withstanding wind gusts caused from passing aircraft and a rotorcraft designed for extraterrestrial deployment.
Despite his busy schedule, McCrink is motivated by so many and varied projects. “It’s exciting to be at the forefront of the next frontier of aviation and to guide our students as they develop new techniques and technologies in this rapidly-expanding field,” commented McCrink, who also holds his private pilot certificate.
Prospective graduate and advanced undergraduate students interested in conducting research in areas of UAS (drones) should send their resume and a statement of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Holly Henley, communications specialist