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Magellan, local legend, makes a comeback with help from NMSU engineers

  • By Emily C. Kelley
  • 575-646-1957
  • ekelley@nmsu.edu
  • Dec 13, 2013
Group of students
Group of students

For 20 years, a trip to the Renaissance ArtsFaire to see Magellan, a dragon that floated in the lake at Young Park, was an autumn highlight for many Las Cruces-area families.

A couple of years ago, however, Magellan suffered an apparent fall, resulting in severe damage that prevented the dragon from making its usual appearance in the lake at Young Park, and instead, Magellan spent one year in the "Hospital for Beleaguered Dragons."

With funding from the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, the artistic vision of Bob Diven, the artist who designed and built the original Magellan, and technical know-how from a team of New Mexico State University mechanical engineering seniors and their adviser, a new Magellan is coming to life - and it will be better than ever.

Diven conceived the idea of the original Magellan 22 years ago at a Dona Ana Arts Council Board retreat, and designed and built the dragon, with funding from the council and help from many people in the community.

"I brought it to the board and said I'd do it if they paid for materials, and I built it for about $1,000 out of plywood, vinyl, foam and steel. A lot of people helped me work on it. That's how it came about," Diven said. "It served for 20 years. For plywood and upholstery vinyl, that's not bad. We could repair it and it would keep going, but I liked the opportunity to make a new dragon."

The New Mexico State University College of Engineering connection and funding came from the unlikely partnership of New Mexico Space Grant Consortium Director Patricia Hynes and Bob Diven.

"I've admired Bob's work for many years. I've also admired him as an active member of our community, because there are many causes that become accessible to the public, and the public gets to understand why they're important, when somebody like Bob will just do something simple, like a piece or art, or even a cartoon, or something to express a unifying emotion for our community," Hynes said. "I read an article about Magellan, and I thought, 'this would be a great project for students.' It encapsulates so many disciplines - structures, electronics, design, etc. - and Bob is the type of person who has the background, not only because he is an artist, but he also has the ability to interface with the technical community. That was an essential component here."

"I'd updated and improved the dragon for 20 years, but I was to the point that I wanted to create a new dragon - the way the dragon should be," Diven said.

After working with Hynes, he made a pitch to the NMSU mechanical engineering capstone seniors about the project, a team was put together, and Associate Professor Gabe Garcia signed on as the team's faculty adviser. Team Magellan was formed and work started in the spring 2013 semester.

Miles Buster serves as the team leader.

"Last semester, we did a whole lot of design and we had the basic idea of what we wanted the dragon to be, working mostly with Bob," Buster said. "He had this beautiful vision for it, so we started coming up with ideas about how do we make it move like Bob wants it to, how do we make it blow smoke and how do we make it have sound - that aspect of it was what our job was last semester."

Team Magellan put in hundreds, if not more than a thousand hours, on the project during the fall semester, but the project was too involved to be completed by the Nov. 2-3 Renaissance ArtsFaire. Instead, the team had a booth at the faire, illustrating the design and build process, starting with the conceptual drawings, all the way up to a fiberglass dragon head and lower jaw on the metal frames and servos that will hold up the head and make it move. They even had fearsome dragon sounds and billowing smoke for all to see.

"There's still a lot to be done," Garcia said. "We need to make plans about how we will mill out some of the parts to be more precise, so the dragon's movements won't be shaky."

That work will continue on Magellan over the NMSU winter break, and into the spring semester. Buster will begin graduate school and Garcia has asked that he stay on Team Magellan to help with some of the sophisticated electronics work.

Once the movements and electronics are perfected, Team Magellan will have to test and refine the dragon's seaworthiness in preparation for next year's ArtsFaire.