Updated March 25 at 6:25am

‘Wingman’ takes off again, thanks to URI students

Two years ago, a device called the “Wingman” was created by University of Rhode Island students to prevent wingtips on planes from colliding while aircraft are being towed on the ground.

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‘Wingman’ takes off again, thanks to URI students

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SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Two years ago, a device called the “Wingman” was created by University of Rhode Island students to prevent wingtips on planes from colliding while aircraft are being towed on the ground.

Recently, a new group of mechanical engineering students refined the device, and dubbed it the “Wingman 360.”

According to information from URI, Delta Airlines is interested in the 5-pound plastic device and has agreed to field test a prototype of the design.

“This is an incredible opportunity for our students,’’ Bahram Nassersharif, a URI engineering professor who is overseeing the project, said in a statement. “The students are not only learning about aviation and airport operations, but also about creating a new device that has the potential to significantly mitigate on-ground aircraft collisions and wing damage during maintenance operations.”

Wingman 360 temporarily attaches to a plane’s wingtip with suction cups.

Ultrasonic sensors in the device detect when the aircraft nears another plane on the ground or the wall of a hangar as it is being towed.

The previous version of Wingman only had a maximum detection angle of 90 degrees, unlike Wingman 360, which has a 180-degree field of view. The original Wingman also was only for small planes, not large aircraft. Still, the original device won first place in a national Federal Aviation Administration competition.

Wingman 360 also can be mounted on different areas of the wingtip. The cost is $2,200 for two devices – one for each wingtip – and a module.

The old device emitted warning lights and sounds to signal a possible wingtip problem, which had to be seen by the worker towing the aircraft. Wingman 360 sends a signal to a module, or box, on the tug’s dashboard, triggering a buzzer and lights.

“In the past, airline workers needed to be physically looking at the wing to see the lights,’’ Laura Corvese, of Portsmouth, a senior engineering student working on the project, said. “You can imagine how hard that would be to manage. It would be very difficult to tow an airplane and look at the wings at the same time.’’

The device would not be permanently attached to the plane. Workers would put it on the aircraft’s wingtips when a plane is being moved to a hangar.

Corvese and three other mechanical engineering majors, Mitchell Contente of Bristol, Cody McMillian of Portsmouth and Gilbert Resto of Providence, created the project for their senior capstone design project, a yearlong class that requires students to solve real-world problems with viable products. Delta Airlines sponsored the capstone design program for mechanical engineering.

“We took a lot of the students’ creative ideas from two years ago and used them in a different way,’’ Corvese said. “One of the major changes is that the new device is better for bigger planes.’’

“It’s amazing to think that something I worked on with my team of friends might actually be used on a national level,’’ Corvese added.

The prototype will be finished at the end of the month, and the students are expected to test the device on a large aircraft, possibly at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick.

The students will present a poster about their project during the American Society for Engineering Education Northeast Conference April 28 through 30 on the Kingston campus.

Said Nassersharif, “It’s incredible for our students to be on the leading edge of aviation design.’’

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