Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane.
High above the University of Maine campus, it’s Gannet — a remote-controlled airplane that both resembles a bird and is named after one. Gannet is white with black wing tips and a yellow head. It weighs 8 pounds, has an 83-inch wingspan, and can fly 55 mph.
Gannet gets its moniker from the similarly colored North Atlantic seabird that weighs about 6 pounds, has a 70-inch wingspan and hits 62 mph while diving for fish. The plane is equipped with a push propeller so the maneuverable camera mounted on its nose has an unobstructed bird’s-eye view (with a fisheye lens) of land, sea and sky.
Brian Barainca, a UMaine junior from Milford, Maine, majoring in mechanical engineering, conceived, designed and built Gannet and its test companion, Blue. He is president of the Black Bearons, UMaine’s remote-controlled aircraft club that formed in 2011.
Barainca constructed the waterproof Gannet, which takes off and lands on land and water, for Rebecca Holberton, a UMaine professor of biological sciences and a migratory bird expert.
Holberton researches how external and internal factors affect avian survival. Her goal is to apply knowledge gleaned from birds to better the environment and the lives of humans and wildlife.
Holberton envisions Gannet snapping photos and streaming video of thousands of songbirds in flight off Metinic Island and along the Gulf of Maine coast during spring and fall migrations — for research and aesthetic purposes.
“I’d like to be flying up there with them,” she says.
Gannet is the next best thing.