February 10, 2020 | Rachel Erickson

On November 16, high school Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) teams attended the Second Annual Ultimate UAV Competition Blastoff at the Craven Community College-NC State campus in Havelock, North Carolina. 

This NC Space Grant-funded event was supported by Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), Fleet Readiness Center East, and NC State/CCC 2+2 Engineering Program, a partnership between NC State and Craven Community College. Engineers from NAVAIR and the Havelock campus coached student teams on remote control (RC) piloting, drones and aerodynamics. 

These activities introduce students to aerospace engineering and aviation concepts with a focus on unmanned aerial systems, all in the hopes of inspiring the next generation of engineers, pilots, technicians and instructors.

– Christopher Bitzer, systems engineer with NAVAIR and head of the event

Students and engineer mentors strategize on construction of their remote-controlled flyers in Spring 2019.

During the day-long event, local high school students had a chance to learn basic assembly skills and RC piloting techniques. Not only do these skills teach engineering process and concepts, they also help lay the groundwork for students to participate in the Ultimate UAV Flyoff in Spring 2020. In that competition, students will build a foam UAV, or unpiloted aerial vehicle, of their own, with the guidance of an engineering coach, eventually taking to the skies the day of the competition. Last year’s winner, New Bern High School, will seek to defend their title as champions at the Ultimate Competition event in the spring.

Students and engineer mentors line up the RC flyers for the spring competition.

“The student, instructor and community feedback to last year’s Flyoff was very positive and surpassed all expectations,” said NAVAIR systems engineer and event head, Christopher Bitzer. “With nearly 100 people in attendance from all backgrounds, and more reached through local paper news and television media, last year’s event had an overwhelming reception. We are looking to ride that momentum into a bigger and better event year over year.”

After the November event, Bitzer, commented, “I think it is safe to say that the Ultimate UAV Fall Blastoff went off without a hitch. All involved had a great time, and we are very thankful to have the support of NAVAIR, FRC East, NC State University at Craven Community College Havelock Campus, and Craven + Carteret County Public Schools!”

Teams applying their skills to construct RC Flyers during the Fall Blastoff.

With NAVAIR engineers and the director of mechanical engineering systems from the Havelock campus as mentors for the activities, high school participants develop useful skills to apply to future education and career goals. Students gain an exclusive look into the engineers’ career fields, paths to working in the industry and their day-to-day life. Reflecting on last year’s competition, Bitzer shares that “this one-on-one interaction (as well as the Flyoff itself) appeared to be each school’s favorite part of the process.”

Sandy Quinn, a participating instructor with West Carteret High School, reported afterward, “Amazing kick-off event! We enjoyed the day – and all our new toys!! We already have the flight simulator up and working!”

The students who participated also expressed enthusiasm. Tenth-grader Jaedyn Moore said, “I like that we were able to play with the simulator. In addition, I enjoyed having the engineers help us to build the plane.”

Moore noted that the competition could have a tangible impact on his future path. “My interest in aerospace engineering led me to this program,” he said. “I am looking for an opportunity to discover if being an aerospace engineer is definitely what I want to do in the future.”

Another 10th-grader, Joshua Cooke, spoke of similar goals.

Students practicing basic aerodynamics and aviation principles while building flyers at the 2019 Fall Blastoff.

“I am looking for a chance to learn to fly and also learn how planes work,” Cooke said. “I want to learn how to build planes.”

Learning from November’s Fall Blastoff, students gained more training with their mentors at the Spring Blastoff on February 8. Now teams have the engineering know-how and will put their skills to the test at the Ultimate UAV Fly-off come April 4. Best of luck to all the teams!

Learn more about the Spring 2019 competition here.

Using their training from the Fall and Spring Blastoffs, students will set their RC flyers to the sky in April 2020 for the Ultimate UAV Competition.

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