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NEWS | June 1, 2023

Virginia Tech students bring innovation to NSWC Dahlgren Division-sponsored senior capstone projects

By Jennifer Erickson, NSWCDD Corporate Communications

A 5x8-foot barge with 12-foot legs that reach into the river bottom stable enough for instrumentation measuring laser beams. A Directed Energy Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Target Test Device that proves stable during high power microwave (HPM) testing. A mast-mounted antenna shock test fixture that simulates large displacement test environments.

What do all of these products have in common?

Virginia Tech students designed them as a part of their senior capstone projects sponsored by the Integrated Engagement Systems Department at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD).

The division’s leadership visited with the students who displayed their projects at the Virginia Tech Mechanical Engineering Senior Design Expo in April at Virginia Tech. Attendees included Dale Sisson, Jr., SES, Technical Director, Chief Technology Officer Jennifer Clift, Kevin Cogley, High Power Microwave Weapon Systems Division Head, Daniel Ross, Test and Evaluation Division Head, Jonathan Matteson, Weapons System Test Range Operations and Data Acquisition Branch Head, Alan Overby, High Power Microwave Effects, Modeling, and Simulation Branch Head, scientist Amanda Dean-Wilson, engineer Gray English and engineer Thane Everett.

“I am so impressed with our rising engineers,” said Sisson, a Virginia Tech alumnus. “They worked with our team to create products that we can test and evaluate and, ultimately, provide to the Fleet.”

For one of the projects, the intent was to test UAS targets against a HPM shot without having to fly them. Students came up with the Directed Energy Unmanned Aerial System Target Test Device, which involved placing a flagpole on top of a trailer. Atop the flagpole, a three-motor system can move the UAS into any pose needed, holding it in the air at a reasonable altitude, rotating 360 degrees, forward and backward, left and right, according to Cogley.

“We’re going to add it to our capabilities,” Cogley said. “We’re going to use it.”

The Weapons System Test Range Operations and Data Acquisition Branch sponsored two of the projects.

Students returned the disassembled barge May 9.

Matteson said the barge is a “deployable asset” and he believes NSWCDD can use it for shallow water testing on the Potomac River Test Range.

Like Cogley, Matteson sees a bright future for this product.

“This one should give us an actual capability,” Matteson said.

Students designed the third project around simulating a near-miss shock event, where an underwater mine detonates near a ship. The need was to test shock hardened antennas to ensure the shockwave doesn’t disable the equipment. The students built a fixture that utilizes both an active and passive damping system to control the input to the test item.

“They came up with a whole fixture design that we never really considered,” Matteson said. “It’s a great start and it gave us a great new idea to pursue.”

Cogley and Matteson saw other benefits to the projects – for the warfighter and personally.

“There’s something to be said for doing something that has an application that is going to the warfighter,” Cogley, a Virginia Tech alumnus, said.

Matteson recalled his capstone projects when he was at Penn State for his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and George Mason University for his master’s degree in systems engineering.

“I find it really rewarding getting to give back to the younger generation,” Matteson said.

Virginia Tech is one of 91 Educational Partnership Agreements that the NSWCDD Technology Office manages.

“We are so grateful for our partnerships and the opportunities they afford students, faculty and our future workforce,” Clift said.