McIntosh Drone Team Wins National Competition


Seth Bishop

(from left-to-right: Sam Triplett, Luke Wonderley, Logan Connerat, Adrien Richez, Matthew Harmon, Robert Palla, and Noah Statton) Photo Credit: Seth Bishop The Drone Team is lining up for a quick team photo before it is their turn to compete. They would go on to win the competition, securing the national title.

Luke Wonderley, Staff Writer

(from left-to-right:) Sam Triplett, Luke Wonderley, Logan Connerat, Adrien Richez, Matthew Harmon, Robert Palla, and Noah Statton) Photo Credit: Seth Bishop. The Drone Team is lining up for a quick team photo before it is their turn to compete on August 18, 2018. They would then go on to win the competition, securing the national title.

The McIntosh Multi-Rotor Team recently became national champions on Saturday, Aug. 18, taking home the first place title as well as the prestige that comes with it. They travelled ten hours in the team’s “party van” to Muncie, Indiana to compete, and while they faced adversity on the way, the team managed to overcome those challenges and stand victorious.

The team won the UAS4STEM competition, a competition designed to encourage students to find success and teamwork through STEM-related drone challenges. In the UAS4STEM competition, teams are asked to accomplish multiple tasks. Firstly, the teams have to build a drone from the available starter kit as well as any competition-legal parts they can get their hands on. Secondly, the teams have to work as a cohesive unit to accomplish a variety of tasks with the drone. Thirdly, the team is asked to give a fifteen-minute long presentation to the judges, in which they explain the detailed flight plan and strategies to accomplish the goals of the current competition. The McIntosh Multi-Rotor Team was able to accomplish and exceed in all three of these areas, and with that, took home the national champion title.

The success of the MMRT was a long time in the making. Robert Palla, the team’s lead mission planner said, “Preparing for the competition was a repetitive, habitual, and tedious process of practice. We ran countless practice missions and encountered mind-boggling difficulties with both our drone and computer software. However, we persisted, solved every problem with creative talent.”

The students on the team met twice a week for several hours, and occasionally more than that, for most of the year leading up to the regional and national competitions.

In fact, Mr. Palla said, “If I had been working at, say, $10/hour during every hour I had spent working with the team, I would have enough money to buy a used car.“

At practices, the team worked hard on perfecting their techniques and strategies for the competition; however, just as much time was spent on non-practice meetings. In these meetings, the team would get together and brainstorm new ideas to make the drone perform better or to make sure everyone was on the same page for practicing outside of meetings.  

Despite all the careful preparation, however, the team faced great adversity at nationals. Halfway during the flight, the drone started experiencing catastrophic errors.

Junior Robert Palla said, “I tried my best not to let any stress get to me. Altogether, we practiced for too many hours to really have any doubt in our capabilities. It wasn’t until it seemed that everything had gone wrong during the competition that I started to panic.”

At one point, the team’s drone traveled several hundred feet into the air and backwards into the out-of-bounds area, directly above the audience. Luckily, the team’s pilot, junior Adrien Richez, was able to take manual control of the drone and land it back on the flight line. The next ten minutes were a tense back-and-forth for the team; the programmers tried many different solutions to get the drone to work, while the pit crew looked for mechanical errors and made sure everything physically in check with the drone. Eventually, with time running low, the team decided to do the rest of the mission manually. Thanks to some excellent flying from Adrien Richez and the mission commander, junior Matthew Harmon, the team managed to gather as many points as possible in the remaining time, scoring 131 out of a maximum of 166.

The drone team is accepting new members for the upcoming year and will be having its debriefing meeting for veteran members as well as the primer meeting for new members fairly soon. Make sure to keep an eye on the announcements or look for the drone team banners around the school if you are interested in joining.

However, the team is not for everyone, as Robert Palla states, “Since forever, I have had an extreme fascination in engineering, both software-based and material-based. In that respect, no, the drone team is definitely not for everyone. However, the drone team covers such a wide range of skills, from pure leadership to merely putting the propellers on the drone (yes, that is a role), that it makes me wonder if maybe it has something for everyone.” Despite this, however, there is something to be gained from joining drone team; when junior Matthew Harmon, the Mission Commander of the team, was asked how the experiences he gained had prepared him for the future, he stated that: “I think leading this team this year has really prepared me for what obstacles I might face in teamwork situations. It’s really inspiring how great of a team we were able to pull together, and how our teamwork worked out.“

If you would like to get in contact with the drone team, or get any further information, you can see Mr. Seth Bishop in room 133 either before or after school. The first information meeting has already happened, but it is not too late to join.