LETU students launch drones to prep for autonomous flight

LETU students launch drones to prep for autonomous flight

LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems degrees are really taking off, as it were. And LeTourneau University is offering just that. Students learn every aspect of flying, programming and licensing fixed wing drones.

If you’re going to fly a drone or RC aircraft, the East Texas Modeler’s Airport is a great place to do it. Instructor Ruedi Schubarth explains what’s expected of the teams.

“Monitoring aircraft systems, making sure it’s doing what it’s supposed to do,” Schubarth said to the class.

Of course students like Jonathan Chrisman and Henry Wooten weren’t thrilled the weather was doing what it wasn’t supposed to do when attempting a test flight. But, a preflight check under a pavilion kept the rain off everything. They were:

“Verifying the autopilot is in good condition, and getting ready to do our first test flight,” Schubarth stated.

The Styrofoam fixed-wing drones are used for test flights to prepare for flying a $12,000 state-of-the-art drone the class is also working on. Their preflight checklist paid off since:

“We had problems with one of the parameters for our autopilot that controls everything, and so we had to fix that today. Yesterday it ran great, but today not so much,” Wooten said.

So while it rained they ran through everything and eventually got it working.

“All right successful arming of GPS,” Schubarth said.

Although Jonathan did have to put the glue gun to use.

“Hopefully the rain holds off enough for us to fly,” Schubarth said.

WEBXTRA: LETU students launch drones to prep for autonomous flight

“Just another few minutes,” I whispered.

“Yeah, for sure,” Schubarth smiled.

“Go ahead, power up,” Jonathan said.

With that Jonathan gave the drone a toss as Henry piloted remotely, keeping the drone in the air. Jonathan was support pilot.

“I’m monitoring the track of the aircraft, the GPS signal that it’s sending back and all the telemetry data,” Jonathon explained.

Software kept track of everything including the flight path. There was a fight with gusty winds. Ten minutes later, Henry got the drone on the ground in one piece.

“I think I just took another five years off my life,” Henry admitted.

The next flight didn’t go as well, but that’s why they’re not flying their $12,000 drone just yet.

“We need to adapt them, use them. I don’t think it’ll ever replace manned aircraft completely. I don’t expect it to anyway. But I think it can augment the industry and the two can complement each other very well. It’s cutting edge technology and I kind of want to be on that leading edge,” said Chrisman.

Next week they plan on an autopilot test flight with the cheap $2,000 drones to make sure they can fly without a pilot. When that works they’ll fly the $12,000 Albatross.

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