Drone Team Wins National Competition


Seth Bishop

McIntosh’s drone team beams with success (from left-to-right: Sam Triplett, Luke Wonderley, Logan Connerat, Adrien Richez, Matthew Harmon, Robert Palla, and Noah Statton).

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 traveled 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. “Preparing for the competition was a repetitive, habitual, and tedious process of practice,” Robert Palla, the team’s lead mission planner said. “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.

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,“ Mr. Palla said. 

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 backward 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.

Since forever, I have had an extreme fascination in engineering, both software-based and material-based,” Robert Palla said. “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, that it makes me wonder if maybe it has something for everyone.”

Please see Mr. Seth Bishop in room 133 either before or after school for information on joining the drone team.  

Seth Bishop
McIntosh’s drone team beams with success (from left-to-right: Sam Triplett, Luke Wonderley, Logan Connerat, Adrien Richez, Matthew Harmon, Robert Palla, and Noah Statton).