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UAV competition
The Academy’s Unmanned Aerial Systems team and their faculty advisers with the remotely piloted aircraft they designed and built for the student UAS competition in Patuxent River, Md. (Courtesy Photo)
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Academy finishes strong in UAS competition

Posted 7/8/2011   Updated 7/8/2011 Email story   Print story


by David Edwards
Public Affairs

7/8/2011 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Air Force Academy finished fourth at the Student Unmanned Aerial Systems competition in Patuxent River, Md., in late June.

Consisting of three phases -- journal/report, oral briefing and mission performance -- the competition was being held for the ninth time.

Utah State University brought home the overall championship as well as top honors in each of the three phases. The three teams ahead of the Academy took advantage of a resource unavailable to cadets, said Daniel Pack, the UAS research director at the Academy: they "had 'extended' assistance from their graduate students."

Despite the competitive disadvantage, there was a lot to like about the fourth-place result.

"I was very proud of the team members in their interactions with them," Dr. Pack said. "The USAFA team was often surrounded by competitors and other competition participants (who) were drawn to the team by the uniforms and the trailer."

In the mission performance phase of the competition, the Academy team found two of four targets and finished within the allotted 40 minutes. The team did best in the journal phase, garnering second place. Cadets were also among the six teams in the finals of the oral briefing event.

This year's competitors were 2nd Lt. Russ Wilson, 2nd Lt. Andrew Sainsbury, Cadet 1st Class John Welch, Cadet 1st Class Tristan Latchu and Cadet 2nd Class Wolf Thielmann.

Cadet Latchu attributed the favorable outcome to all the planning and adjusting the Academy team had done in advance of the competition.

"Some teams were building their airframes the day before their scheduled flight, while others chose to make major design modifications the night before," he said. "By all rights, we performed our last test flight May 18, by which time we had created checklists and rehearsed the preflight, in-flight and postflight processes and procedures very thoroughly."

He had also collaborated on programming the target-recognition software, and he said that "once we created the final iteration of the program, there was not much to do in the way of preparation."

There were some glitches and missteps at the competition, but the team's ability to overcome them was on display, Cadet Thielmann said.

"Teamwork was an absolutely critical part of the competition," he said. "The team needed to work together smoothly in order to decrease any wasted time on the ground, and in order to make on-the-fly adjustments while we scanned for targets on the ground."

There was no word on how the cadets felt about being aced out by a school from a neighboring state. But with the victory this year, Utah State became the first repeat winner of the UAS completion. The school's first triumph came in 2009.

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