Learning about Drones, RPAs, and R/C Aircraft

Over the past couple weeks, I have wanted to learn more about “drones,” a term that I found out is incorrect – the proper term is remotely piloted aircraft, or RPAs. Before these modern aircraft were in the news, they used to be just radio controlled aircraft, or R/C aircraft. What’s the difference? Drones are unmanned aircraft typically used for target practice. RPA’s are sophisticated aircraft used for many different missions and piloted by a crew on the ground using satellite signals. R/C aircraft are simply model aircraft flown using a remote control system that transmits the control signal from a handheld controller to the aircraft using a radio signal. For the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering, flying small scale R/C aircraft will be part of the curriculum. Initially students will fly store bought models, then they will design and fly their own creations. To teach all this, I am getting proficient in R/C aircraft operations so we have a safe and instructive program.

Mr. Holmes in his backyard, taken with UDI R/C aircraft
Mr. Holmes in his backyard, taken with UDI R/C aircraft

The first thing I am doing is getting proficient with the R/C aircraft I got for the Academy: UDI R/C four-motor helicopters with cameras. These are sometimes called “quadcopters,” another incorrect term–quadrotor helicopter would be more correct. They have a simple onboard camera that takes photos and videos that can be downloaded after flight. They are simple to fly, and they give us a great way to learn about remote sensing, a major unit we will study in the spring. This photo of me in my backyard was taken using one of these aircraft.

The other thing I am doing to ensure we have a safe and effective R/C aircraft program is to join the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and to partner with a local chapter, the Central Connecticut R/C Club. Today, I went to the club’s “Fun Fly Day” at their field at 100 Meadow Road, Farmington, Connecticut. I met the club president, Damon Rosenthal, and watched club members, including several youth members, fly their aircraft–everything from 1/4 scale replicas of old warbirds to small, simple airplanes made from foam board. The flying is done following AMA’s safety rules. Beginners take lessons and get checked out by an instructor before they can operate their aircraft on the field. For anyone who has always wanted to fly, this is an alternative way to do it. The following photos are from today’s event. The club is also hosting another big event on National Model Aviation Day on August 15, 2015–any one is welcome to stop in and observe the flying and learn more about this sport. I also invited Mr. Rosenthal to give a talk at the Academy this fall to help our students learn about R/C aircraft flying and the club.

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Author: Bryan Holmes, Physics & Math Teacher, STEM Competition Mentor

Starting at Thomaston High School in Thomaston, Connecticut, in fall of 2018.

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