Written by Rachelle Haughn
Clubs can host and support teams in 2017
As seen in the December 2016 issue of Model Aviation.
Chris Martin and his fellow club members were frustrated. They held outreach events in hopes of attracting new members, but the results were always the same. “We had a community event each spring and got one new member” every year, Chris stated. “It’s a huge [effort] to have a community day. It wasn’t worth it.”
In 2015, the Patuxent Aeromodelers RC Club decided that it was time to try something different—something that other clubs across the country had not. What was the result?
St. Mary’s Civil Air Patrol (CAP) Composite Squadron MD-089, from Great Mills MD, placed third in the national UAS4STEM contest.
“We got a good, solid five [people] that joined the club each year [2015 and 2016],” Chris said with excitement in his voice. The Hollywood, Maryland, group of roughly 100 members had finally found a way to grow.
The secret to the Patuxent Aeromodelers RC Club’s success isn’t much of a secret, and it’s one that the group is willing to share with organizations across the country. What is this amazing strategy? Hosting a UAS4STEM contest.
In 2016, in addition to Hollywood, regional UAS4STEM contests were held in White Lake, Michigan; San Diego, California; Ball Ground, Georgia; Fargo, North Dakota; and Wenatchee, Washington. The top teams from the regional competitions advanced to the national competition, held August 20 at the International Aeromodeling Center, in Muncie, Indiana. All of the regional competitions were hosted by aeromodeling clubs.
The CAP Composite Squadron competes in the national contest.
Chris said that the Patuxent Aeromodelers found the experience rewarding. “It’s just nice to take a hobby that I love and pass it on to a new generation of people, especially that young,” he commented.
Before the regional competition took place at his club’s field in April, Chris, club president Archie Stafford, and their fellow club members had some work to do. Chris attended several planning meetings, helped find mentors for some of the teams (he also served as a mentor for one of the teams), and assisted the teams when they came to his club field to practice. “One team came out to practice two hours a day, three days a week for a month [before the contest],” he stated.
Club members gave the teams several safety tips. These included making sure that the transmitter is turned on before powering up the aircraft, ensuring that the transmitter is not set to automode, and properly and safely setting up the quadcopter for flight.
Chris Martin (R), secretary of the the Patuxent Aeromodelers RC Club, talks with Matt Ruddick, AMA media producer, at the UAS4STEM Mid-Atlantic Regional.
“Some of them had at least a very limited experience with RC flying,” Chris, the Patuxent Aeromodelers RC Club secretary, explained. “We wanted everybody to walk out with every digit they came with.”
The one aspect in which the club did not help the teams with was building the multirotors. “We tried to take a very hands-off approach to helping because it was their project,” Chris said. The purpose of the UAS4STEM contest is for the teams to use Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) to solve a problem. In this year’s contest, the teams built and flew a Quadzilla quadcopter and used it to find clues in a search-and-rescue scenario.
“It’s interesting to me to see these kids have fun with engineering—with problem solving,” said Bill Pritchett, AMA Education director.
A member of Team TORCH from Maryland, gets ready to launch a Quadzilla in the national competition.
According to Chris, on the day of each regional, the hosting clubs had several duties including controlling the flightline; setting up the area where the teams would brief the judges on their flight plans, safety procedures, etc.; starting and stopping the flight clock (the teams had 30 minutes to fly); and ensuring that an experienced RC pilot stayed near the flightline in case any of the teams needed help maneuvering their quadcopters.
The teams competing in UAS4STEM had 50 minutes to give an oral presentation to the judges that included their flight plans and safety procedures.
Club duties before a regional contest also include assigning a contest director and event director, creating a safety crew to inspect the flying site, and establishing a welcome committee to talk with the teams and the public about the contest and model aviation. On the day of the regional competition, clubs must have a contest activity crew to register teams as they arrive, show them where to set up, and answer questions. The crew must also hand out the awards at the end of the competition. A setup and cleanup crew is needed before and after the contest.
Some of the clubs went above and beyond what was required to host the event, AMA Education Assistant Jessy Symmes said. Some clubs chose to hold RC model aircraft flight demonstrations, prepare meals for the teams, invite spectators to watch the event, invite representatives of UAV industry companies to meet with the contestants, and hold an FPV race, she added.
A team from Creekview High School in Canton GA, placed fourth in the national championship that was held in Muncie IN.
“A lot of the kids got into model aviation big time,” Bill said, referring to after the contest. Jessy agreed, stating, “A lot [of kids] have picked up aeromodeling as a second hobby.”
Chris feels that hosting a UAS4STEM contest is a great, but different, way to get younger pilots interested in aeromodeling. “[They] might not like airplanes. You have to find a means of passing on [your] passion through a passion of theirs.” Chris became interested in the hobby by flying trainer airplanes, and later started building multirotors.
Although hosting a regional contest has many benefits, it might seem like too much for your club to take on next year. Don’t worry—there are other ways for your club to get involved, such as by sponsoring a team.
The PCT Droners, from Peachtree GA, was one of the teams that made it to the national championship.
UAS4STEM teams are made up of four to eight youths, ages 11 to 19. The 2017 entry fee for each new team is $2,495. Returning teams must pay $795, plus a student course fee of $65 per person. The team members are required to apply for a free AMA Youth membership if they do not already have one, and complete the sUAS Ground School curriculum. The team entry fee includes up to eight sUAS Ground School licenses, a Quadzilla quadcopter to build, and competition entry.
In addition to the entry fee, teams often have travel expenses. “A lot of the  teams did car washes, mowed yards, shoveled snow, etc.” to raise money to compete in the regional competitions, said Jessy. “Several teams were sponsored by local companies. One team was funded by a GoFundMe” fundraiser.
The teams were required to build and fly a Quadzilla.
For the 2017 contest, for which teams can currently register, there are a handful of sponsorship options for clubs and businesses. The sponsorship amounts range from $2,000 to $10,000. There is a sponsorship form available on the UAS4STEM website. Some of the benefits of financially supporting a team include having the club or business logo on advertising, social media postings, programs, and in Model Aviation magazine.
If teams are not sponsored by a club or business, Bill suggested that they check the UAS4STEM website listed in “Sources” for fundraising ideas.
Paige Hensley was awarded a $500 Dewey O. Broberg Jr. Memorial Scholarship for her teamwork.
In September, AMA learned that the 2017 UAS4STEM contest would be sponsored by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “That will help with the overhead costs of the event,” Bill said. The funds will also be used to help advertise the contest in magazines in hopes of generating more interest in the competition.
In the first UAS4STEM contest in 2016, 75 teams competed in the regional events. “We’re not going to cap it next year. I’d like to have 150 [participate], but 300 would be great,” Jessy commented. She added that she hoped the teams that competed in 2016 would return for 2017.
Quad Squad, of Shoreview, Minnesota, won the 2016 national championship. “The winning team wasn’t a school team, wasn’t a club—just kids from a neighborhood,” Bill commented, adding that the 2016 UAS4STEM competition was “far better than our expectations.”
Quad Squad, a team made up of neighborhood friends from Shoreview MN, placed first. The members split the $2,500 prize.
“A big round of applause needs to go to the mentors for stepping up,” said Jessy. Chris, who clearly enjoyed the experience of hosting a regional UAS4STEM contest, had some advice for other clubs that are considering getting involved with the program. “If you’re on the fence, I’d say give it a try. It’s a good way of building a community outreach,” he said.
Mid-Atlantic Regional video