Flight by Design takes literal flight through drone

Senior Connor Whitlock works diligently on the project next to his team’s autonomous drone.
Photo Credit: Ryan Lipour

At RAHS, it is no secret that project based learning is a large part of curriculum. One of RAHS’ elective classes, Flight by Design, takes that to the next level. A group of students in Flight by Design is currently developing an autonomous drone.

Senior Eli Benevedes is a member of the team. He is currently developing software for the drone.

“The Flight by Design class is one of the capstone classes that is mostly upperclassmen,” said Benevedes, “where you combine all your skills previously learned in your other classes like physics and programming and your math courses, and put it together into an actual real life project.”

There are multiple project groups in Flight by Design, covering a myriad of different project types. Senior Connor Whitlock is another student on the team.

“There is one team that is trying to create a robotic hand, that will copy a glove that they make, there is one team that is trying to make their own music synthesizers, given only the basic electronic pieces,” said Whitlock. “There is another group that is doing their own drone, but where ours is trying to be autonomous, their drone is remote controlled to make a map of the terrain.”

The team’s vision of the project is for full autonomous functionality.

“The idea is that we will be able to pre-program a flight path, and it will be able to follow it without any human input, including takeoff and landing,” said Benevedes.

This goal has, as one could imagine, a host of obstacles

“We have had some issues with the gyroscope we have been using,” said Benevedes. “We have been having some problems doing the math to get the rotations correct, and we are just now working it out.”

There have also been a few difficulties as far as the construction of the drone.

“For me specifically, since I am focusing on build, my issue has been coming up with way to make the things that we have wanted to build,” said Whitlock. “We may want a fuselage, here’s what we want it to look like in CAD, but actually making it has been difficult at times.”

Whitlock also believes that his classes beforehand have been integral to his work on the project in Flight by Design.

“Obviously in Mr. Hoene’s class, we did a lot of group projects, which kind of factors into this when it comes to picking people you work well with, rather than just people you will mess around with,” said Whitlock. “And also the normal project skills like making a schedule and making sure you keep to it. Flight by Design just takes it a step up because it is such a long project.”

Besides being used as a capstone class, Flight by Design has also been instrumental in teaching students other lessons, such as time and product management.

“It really teaches you about holding to a timeline and planning multiple different aspects of a project in parallel to get it done on time, or stay consistent with your schedule,” says Whitlock.

Whitlock has learned many other important skills in Flight by Design.

“I’ve gotten a lot better at documenting stuff as I go,” said Whitlock. “When we started the project I was like ‘oh I’m just gonna build a glider,’ and I did, but then I had to go back and take it apart to take pictures of each piece. Now that we are building our second iteration, I have been way better at taking pictures as I go and writing down the process as I do it.”

Flight by Design has given students the opportunity to accomplish amazing engineering goals with the skills they already have.

“It [Flight by Design] has taught me that if I apply my skills, I would be able to do something I hadn’t thought I could do before,” said Benevedes.

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