Cadets take part in UAS competition

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Two Academy cadets competed in the international intercollegiate Unmanned Aerial System competition at Pax River, Md., June 18-27. 

Unmanned Aircraft Systems can revolutionize the ability to monitor and understand the global environment. There is a key information gap today between instruments on Earth's surface and on satellites -- UAS can bridge that gap. Operated by remote pilots and ranging in wingspan from less than six feet to more than 115 feet, UAS can also collect data from dangerous or remote areas. 

Cadets 3rd Class Bradley Sapper and Stephen Pike represented the Academy against 16 other universities from around the world. Four other members of the team who helped design and build a UAS have either graduated or are on other summer duty assignments. 

Cadet Sapper's interest began at the Academy when he was selected to be in the SE 460 Class and compete in the competition. 

Teams were graded on a journal paper submitted last month to the competition's judges; a briefing presentation delivered by each team describing the systems engineering process; and the success of each team's UAS flight. 

The Academy began its UAS program earlier this year when planning began to create an Air Force Center of Excellence for UAS and Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance education and research. The program will help prepare cadets to meet battlefield challenges they may encounter after graduation and commissioning. 

Competition highlights included testing the design and construction of the team's UAS in a variety of ways, including autonomous takeoff and recovery; flying within a designated search area; and demonstrating the ability to locate targets based on size, color and shape. 

Efforts were made to prepare for the competition. 

"I took a semester long class to develop a working system," said the astronautic engineering major from Warsaw, Ind. As a result of their Academy exposure, some cadets will pursue careers in UAS/ISR-related fields. 

Several phases of the program involving cadets are planned for this year. From mid-July through September, cadets and instructors will receive ground and airmanship training at the Fort Carson Restricted Range. 

This will include actual flights of two small Viking 300 unmanned aircraft, which will take off and land at Fort Carson in the restricted airspace. When not flying, the Viking 300s will be housed and maintained at Fort Carson. 

Cadet Sapper received an honorable mention for his oral presentation and successfully completed the UAS flight mission. 

"I learned how hard it is to integrate multiple systems into one," said the Cadet Squadron 3 cadet. "The competition was a great opportunity to interact with students around the world and see how others work to accomplish the same task."