Great Mills High School sophomores Rose Cepero-Santos and Arhum Shah fasten sensors to PixHawk Autopilot for initialization to complete a three-month-long STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) physics and engineering project March 10, 2015.

Patuxent River, MD — The air was crisp and the grass was plush green as 10th grade science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) Academy students performed preflight checks on their quadcopters.

The students, most of them from Great Mills High School in Lexington Park, spent the past two months building and programming their quadcopter unmanned aerial systems (UAS) as part of the 2015 STEM4UAS competition. The preflight checks at Greenwell State Park April 25, 2015 were for the first operational testing and included rotating the quadcopter clockwise and counterclockwise to calibrate its GPS and to balance its rotors for optimal flight performance.

For the competition, the students had to figure out how to attach and control a payload delivery device to their quadcopter, so it could deliver a six-ounce water bottle for a simulated rescue mission.

“This device needs to be attached to the quadcopter, so the students are in the design phase of figuring out the proper weight, the type of mechanism that they want to use and the type of actions they would like to execute as a group,” said Steve Hudziak, a research and engineering industrial specialist at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD).

The 2015 STEM4UAS high school competition is the first UAS robotics competition in the tri-county area. Each team of six to ten students must build, program, and fly a comprehensive mock rescue mission using the quadcopters. In addition to GMHS, there were teams from Northern High School of Owings, Maryland and a home-schooled team known as TORCH.

“STEM4UAS has given 12 different teams throughout the Southern Maryland tri-county area the opportunity to build an unmanned system, fly the system, and program the system to operate in autonomous mode,” said Stephanie Browning, an anti-tamper engineer at NAVAIR and lead for the STEM4UAS program. “Additionally, the students will experience what an actual [Department of Defense] systems engineering event is like by having to provide a brief for a flight readiness review.”

The UAS robotics curriculum and rescue mission scenario was a collective effort between Allen Skinner, a STEM 10 physics and engineering science teacher at GMHS, the NAWCAD Educational Outreach office, volunteer engineers from the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Fly-Robotics.com, and Patuxent Aeromodelers who are local members of the Academy of Model Aeronautics community at Greenwell State Park, Maryland. Together, they created STEM4UAS, which supports each team.

“We, as a group, have collectively come up with the best way to make the connections to provide them with the key elements for their design,” said Skinner.

The core members of STEM4UAS are very proud to be able to provide an enriching educational opportunity that involves individuals from different areas of the local community, said Terri Chase, a coordinator in the NAWCAD Educational Outreach office. “The hope is to continue to develop the UAS educational program into something polished and worthy of going national.”

Note: This is the second story out of a three part series tracking the Great Mills High School students’ 2015 STEM Academy progress and involvement with 2015 STEM4UAS. The last story will be a conclusion and name the winners of the 2015 STEM4UAS competition.