Four AMA members have learned that an RC flight they made in 2019 has set a new world record for highest altitude remote-controlled (RC) model aircraft flight.
AMA members Paul Kaup, Jake Minker, Eric Gordon, and Nick Ross learned in August that their flight was ratified by Guinness World Records. On October 13, 2019, they used a balloon to help an RVJet Flying Wing reach an altitude of 34,800 feet—breaking the previous record of 29,527 feet. The flight took place at Spaceport America, in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
“When I found out that the record was officially accepted by Guinness, I was astounded,” Eric stated. “After so much work we put into this, it was amazing to hear it paid off and we officially had the record in our hands.” Paul notified the team that the record was ratified on August 14, 2020.
“We had a good feeling we met the specs to break the world record the day of the flight. However, we had to wait a long time for Guinness to process the data,” Jake added. Also on the team were Rachel Stark and Dani Deckert, who are not AMA members.
Nick shared some background about how the team was formed. “At our grade school, Paul had started a STEM+C program. This gave me the exposure to model aircraft and introduced me to Eric and Jake. We followed Paul through middle and high school as he taught us the foundation to everything we know in regards to building and flying model aircraft. All three of us had been flying model aircraft roughly since 6th grade.”
The trio later formed an aeronautics club at their high school, Richmond Burton Community High School in Richmond, Illinois. In May 2017, they, along with other students, traveled to Spaceport America to attempt to set the new world record for highest altitude RC flight. They called this attempt Project Blackbird. Unfortunately, the Automatic Packet Reporting System failed, and the backup telemetry recorder wrote over its own memory. Only the last 20 minutes of data were recorded. Guinness would not accept the results.
The second (and successful attempt) was called StratoJourney. After the failed attempt in 2017, Paul and the high school students began preparing for another shot at the record. They decided to use a kit-built RVJet Flying Wing and modify to be suitable for high-altitude flight. A weather balloon would carry it up to altitude.
Paul contacted the FAA and filled out the necessary paperwork to allow six teams to attempt the record. “The division of the FAA that I work with is totally supportive of what I am doing,” he said.
In addition to paperwork, Paul traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with FAA officials, wrote letters to senators, and coordinated the project with Spaceport America. He also had to file an exemption request with the FAA, write the program and course content, get the aircraft certified as an experimental UAV, and create an aviation safety checklist. After roughly two years, the flight was green-lighted by the FAA.
Numerous stress tests at low altitudes soon followed, and the day of the flight finally arrived. “The model aircraft was released by burning the rope with nichrome wire with the flip of a switch on the transmitter,” Jake explained.
Today, Jake, Nick, and Eric are freshmen in college. Eric is studying aeronautical management technology (Unmanned Aerial Systems) at Arizona State University, Nick is a freshman at the University of Dayton, where he’s studying mechanical engineering technology, and Jake is a certified flight instructor who will soon be attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Online, with hopes of becoming an airline captain.