UAV testing in the Saudi desert

The Distributed Sensing Systems Laboratory (DSS) is a research group with the systems subgroup of the Electrical Engineering department of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). Among our research activities, we are interested in the development of Lagrangian-based flash-flood sensing systems (and the associated control/estimation algorithms). We are using C-17 remote controlled airplanes for testing, and these airplanes are controlled by APMs 2.6 (with a few modifications to the original code) and Gumstix COMs:

The sensing concept is related in

We are currently 3D printing the sensors. Stay tuned for the future sensor drop tests!


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  • Thanks Brandon and Morli. We also have a paper from last year's ICUAS conference on this project:

  • Developer

    The threshold for scratch building a fully functional UAS style airplane is very low if you already have the electronics and motor.

    Just source some 3mm thick depron sheets (used in construction for bathroom insulation etc.), and watch some youtube tutorials on how to make folded wings and airframes using depron.

    I pretty much guarantee that even you first build will be more efficient and easier to fly, then what you are using now.. :)

  • Admin

    Interesting Project Chris.

    I Agree with Gary and Gregs observation regarding choice of airframe.  I understand your legal limitation. but As you see the C17 is struggling to keep  wings level while landing and needs quite a amount of speed.  X8 or skywalker  would be  great choice IMHO. I fly one and can vouch of skywalker's stability and payload space. It is probably much cheaper that C17 model. For serious UAV AF , Muggin and penguins looks very promising.


    I know that in Dubai, Kuwait and Qatar , it is legal. I was the first expatriate to get the lic from RC club( part of Qatar Scientific club) back in 2000 when it opened for public. Until then it was illegal and only Shks use to sneak them in & fly them in remote farm house :).

  • 3D Robotics

    Great work Chris!  Can you link us to any other info you have on the project?  I found this so far:

  • @Mohammad
    You can fly RC planes in Saudi as long as you are in the right place. Also you can get a an RC license from the RC club in Jeddah, and fly there. The license even allows you to bring two gasoline airframes per year through the customs.
  • Is it even legal to fly RC in Saudi? When I was in Bahrain, customs wouldn't let in anything that could get airborne. 

  • Moderator

    You could easily make something better out of found materials or get rid of the ducted fans and add a couple of propellors and motors. Ducted fans are great for converting electrical power to noise and not much else. I will qualify that, they are great in lightweight models for some whizzing fun but don't load them.

    SPAD To The Bone - Start Here
  • Hey Greg, yes, we realize that the range is pretty restricted, with a 5 Ah battery we have about 5 minutes of flight. And indeed as you mention this airframe is the worst possible choice in terms of stability and take-off speed. Unfortunately it was the only one we could procure at the time due to import restrictions, but of course the real system would use a much more efficient airframe, like a Penguin B.

    One advantage of the C17 though is that it is easy to fit the payload (sensor dispatch system) in the back of the plane. For our current research, range is not really a concern, as we only want to validate the multi-agent sensing concept with short flights.

  • An EDF scale C17 seems like an odd choice for an airframe. Ducted fans are notoriously inefficient and the C17 is a cargo plane for short unimproved fields(the real one).  You would be much better off with almost anything but what you have. Look into an X8 or skywalker or if your budget allows an Penguin UAV or Muggin. There are many choices with better handeling, range, endurance, and durability. APM was a good choice as its cheap and open source code is built too be easily modded.

  • Looking forward to hearing more! There may be some useful info for your project here or here or here.

    As a side note, DIYD members may want to know about this upcoming conference.

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