Cal Poly Research Team Helps Locate WWII Wreckage Near Malta

A new autonomous underwater vehicle and mapping technology developed by engineering students from Cal Poly and Harvey Mudd College helped lead to the discovery of historically significant remains of a missing World War plane off the Malta coast.

The wreckage was of the Fairey Swordfish, a biplane torpedo bomber used by the Royal Navy in the 1930s and during World War II. These rare planes were an important part of the war efforts in the Mediterranean waters around Malta.

The students’ monthlong summer research project is part of an ongoing program called ICEX (International Computer Engineering Experience) that gives participants the opportunity to apply their technical knowledge in an international context and to further their research education.

“The ICEX team is overjoyed to have helped discover a site of a historically significant plane,” said Zoë Wood, a Cal Poly computer science professor who co-leads the expedition with Harvey Mudd College engineering Professor Christopher Clark.

“We’re truly honored to be a part of the ongoing quest to understand the rich aviation history buried in Malta’s waters as well as assisting in the development of new intelligent search and mapping algorithms for AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles),” said Clark.

Three students from Cal Poly (Amy Lewis, software engineering senior; Roslyn Patrick-Sunnes, computer science senior; and Sam Freed, computer science graduate student) and three students (Jeff Rutledge, Jane Wu and Wentao Yuan) from Harvey Mudd College’s Lab for Autonomous and Intelligent Robotics collaborated to plan AUV missions to search for sites, collect and process data and generate 3-D reconstructions of the sites.

“2017 has turned out to be a crucial year for ICEX,” said Timothy Gambin, a collaborating archaeologist from the University of Malta “Through the use of the new AUV and the development innovative approaches to offshore survey, we have achieved some important results culminating in the discovery of this historic plane. As always, it has been great working with Cal Poly and Harvey Mudd faculty and students who, together, have contributed to adding an important piece of Malta’s complex historic puzzle.” 

Related links, including audio interview and photos:

KCBX public radio interview:
Report on Malta TV:
ICEX student blog: