Students hone model-aircraft flying skills in school hallway, gym
‘It’s so hard to fly during the winter,’ so when it's cold, RC Flyers club members practice indoors until springtime
Membership in an after-school remote-controlled model aircraft club in Delta Junction is growing, and they’re branching out: Delta RC Flyers members are offering activities ranging from finding lost animals to drone races in school hallways and gyms.
But during the winter, the students mainly practice flying indoors -- especially in the hallways and gyms at Delta Junction Junior High-High School.
That was Makayla Carstens’ plan during a meeting in December when she fired up one of the club’s drone in the school library and flew it out into the hallway.
“I have to watch it!” she said on the way out.
Makayla is a ninth-grader and one of 31 junior-high and high-school members of the Delta RC Flyers club. And they all really, really like to fly their mini helicopter-like aircraft, indoors and out.
Halfway down the hall, she explains why the drone is moving up and down as it flies along: “I just kind of do stop and pause so I can catch up with it!”
Sixth-grader Colt Coen is itching to get his hands on the controller, but club adviser Norm Cosgrove says he’s got to wait because there’s only so much room in the hallways. And they can’t use the gym, because the volleyball team is practicing.
“It’s so hard to fly during the winter,” he tells Colt, who shrugs and replies “OK.”
“And so when springtime comes,” Cosgrove says, “we can move outside.”
As the students take turns flying the mini-quadcopters, he talks about a new challenge RC Flyers’ took on last summer – using the drones to locate lost pets and farm animals.
“Actually,” Cosgrove says, “we had better luck finding livestock, than we did dogs.”
He says that’s because the drones’ thermal-imaging camera was thrown-off by the sun’s heat.
“We had a really hot summer, and we’re learning that the leaves reflect heat. And if that dog gets under a tree, they’re fairly hard to see, unless you can get under there.”
That’s probably why the club’s drones found four lost pigs last summer, but only two dogs.
“A pig’s body temperature is so high that they glow, right through the leaves!”
The lost-animal service is called the OSCAR Project, named after one of Cosgrove’s dogs. The students came up with an acronym with those letters that the RC Flyers use to describe the technology the drones use, which he recited: “Opti-thermal. System. Canine. Aerial. Rescue.”
Just then, the group heard a high-pitched shrieking from the other end of the hallway, getting louder. The students had begun flying the Avata, their newest and most advanced drone. Cosgrove says the club bought it with funding from a federal program that supports schools in military communities
“The kids got really into those,” he said. “We got one through the Department of Defense grant, and the kids love it so much and it’s so fun to fly that we now have four.”
He says the Avatas are equipped with cameras that provide a 3-D image in goggles that operators wear to fly the drones that are especially useful for flying into tight spaces, like a heating duct.
They can fly up to 60 miles an hour, but Cosgrove says they keep it under 30 when flying through the hallways. He expects them to perform well during weekly obstacle-course races the club plans to hold, beginning next month.
“We’re building our own obstacles out of PVC pipe and pool noodles,” he said. “And we’ll have obstacles in the gym, and then we’ll like, ‘You have to fly from down here, circle an object down there, come back.”
Cosgrove says club members will maintain safety throughout the races, which he predicts will attract even more students to the RC Flyers. He says its membership doubled over the past year, so he had to begin holding two meetings a week. And if the races attract as many students as he anticipates, he may have to schedule a third weekly meeting. Because he, too, is a remote-controlled drone nerd, and he knows firsthand the power that comes from a hand-held controller.