Drones are expected to take on more and more roles in the coming years in both the commercial and hobby realms. Love them or hate them, they’re here to stay. According to research (and let’s be honest, observation) drones are taking on more and more roles within the aviation environment and for good reason.
According to The Insight Partners, Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) market share is set to grow to almost US$ 74 billion by 2028. This represents a growth of almost 19% over the next 5 years. Whether they appear as fixed wing, multi rotor, single rotor or hybrids, these drones perform critical roles that are accomplishing tasks in dangerous and dirty environments often with less cost, less risk, and less time taken. With the growth that is occurring, the importance of safely integrating these aircraft becomes obvious. This is why programs like the Uncrewed Aircraft System for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (UAS4STEM) competition are so incredibly important in educating and inspiring future aviation professionals. As the leader in the hobby and educational aspects of model aviation, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) is uniquely positioned to welcome these new pilots into the skies, ensuring that they integrate safely and easily into all aspects of model aviation.
The AMA has been at the forefront of growing and developing uncrewed air systems (UAS) technology since 1936. We prefer to think of these sUAS as Model Airplanes, but the common definition around these aircraft are now known as “drones”. The Academy is constantly ensuring that these UAS are able to fly safely by adapting and positively influencing trends and regulations. In keeping with its almost 90-year history of safety, AMA remains the credible authority for designing and implementing safe, competitive, educational, and fun programs. The AMA brings model aviation to the forefront of the sport, educational, and hobby world. Modelers benefit from the leadership of the organization, the opportunities to engage in competition, communication and information around all aspects of sUAS, protection of members, representation to lawmakers, education of all levels and classifications of aeromodellers, and scientific/technical development provided by the Academy and its members. The Academy of Model Aeronautics members truly provide this pathway to the future of modeling. UAS4STEM sponsored by Skydio is one such program that we are proud to describe below.
This competition, which first started in 2012, was first developed as a Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) Program sponsored by AMA. However, after a successful first year of program implementation, the competition and program was turned over officially to the AMA.
UAS4STEM sponsored by Skydio is, at its core, an educational Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) competition. Teams are made up of 4 to 10 students and an adult mentor. These students must be between the ages of 11 to 19. AMA Membership is included in registration costs, so all participants become AMA Members and receive membership benefits like insurance and access to our vast network of clubs and flying sites across the country. Once the team is formed, participants must determine team roles within their group. These roles include, but aren’t limited to, Remote Pilot in Command (PIC), Safety Pilot (SP), Safety Officer (SO), Ground Station Officer (GSO), Visual Observer (VO), and Flight Operations. The competitors will act in these roles throughout their participation in the competition. All teams must complete the Ground School curriculum, prepare for their FRR, compete in the Virtual Preliminaries in Spring of the competition year, and are eligible to compete for a spot in the International Finals competition.
The competition also includes the AMA UAS4STEM Ground School Course. Ground School introduces participants to the Fundamentals of Flight, Fundamentals of sUAS, Aviation Safety, Aeromedical Factors and Physiology, the National Airspace system, Radio Communication, Ethical Airmanship, and TRUST Certification.
Ground School can be completed at each competitor’s own time and pace. The curriculum ensures that competitors are prepared and knowledgeable about flying UAS; and must be completed by every competitor prior to the competition. Each participant’s individual scores factor into the overall score of the team which creates an additional motivator to fully learn the concepts and principles that are outlined.
The Beginner Class was created to reduce the barriers of entry into the competition. The competition tends to get more complicated each year as returning teams are challenged in new ways and having this Beginner Class allows more focus on teaching the fundamental skills of drone programming and flying. These skills include learning what the drone components do, how to solder, wire, and tune their quadcopters, fly their drone via line of sight, and eventually how to fly the drone autonomously. UAS4STEM sponsored by Skydio can be a daunting challenge when looking at the requirements of the competition for the first time, so the Beginner teams do not have to worry about engineering their drone to pick up resources and move them; these teams instead use GPS to search, not rescue. Beginning teams are scored on their primary Controlled Autonomous Takeoff, Waypoint Navigation, Controlled Autonomous Landing, Post Processing Target Localization, Post Processing Classification, Post Processing Imagery, and Post Processing Complete Solution. The goal for the Beginner Class is to generate excitement around the competition and create a comfortable learning environment for new teams.
The Advanced Class for UAS4STEM sponsored by Skydio builds on skills from the competition the year before. Since most teams in the Advanced Class are returning teams and can handle many of the curveballs the AMA sends their way, it is important that the competition evolves year to year so the teams can continually be challenged. The Academy of Model Aeronautics makes sure that returning teams can still have fun while building on the skills they learned over the competitions they’ve participated in. In the 2023 competition, Advanced Teams are tasked with designing their own pickup mechanism(s) to pick up different items and deliver them to specific locations, depending on what these drop-off points are. Advanced Teams are scored on their first Controlled Autonomous Takeoff Attempt, Waypoint Navigation, and Controlled Autonomous Landing, just like Beginner Teams. However, Advanced Teams are also scored on their Localization of Determined Points of Interest (POI), Classification and Identical of Multiple Targets, Package Delivery, and the Level of Autonomy their UAS is capable of. The purpose of the Advanced Class is to transform UAS4STEM sponsored by Skydio from a flying and programming competition to an engineering competition.
Teams must compete in the Virtual Preliminary Competition to qualify for the International Competition. This competition is completely virtual and takes about 50 minutes to complete. Teams must provide a proof-of-flight video submission, a virtual Flight Readiness Review (FRR) presentation, a 15-minute mission-planning software assessment, and a video to new teams. Beginner teams’ videos for new teams will focus on sharing what they are doing, what they are learning, and their team goals; AMA utilizes these materials to encourage new teams to engage in the competition after hearing these new teams’ stories. Advanced teams’ videos take on more of a mentorship role; these experienced teams may share a technique that worked for their team, a component of their build, or a process that is helpful to their team. Teams are scored on introductions of each team member and their roles, their support/training video for new teams, their system overview, a synopsis of their system safety, their developmental test results, any evidence of mission accomplishments, a pre-mission briefing, and the accuracy, clarity, logic, precision, relevance, depth, and suitability of their presentation.
Following the preliminary competition the top qualifying teams travel to EAA Airventure Oshkosh for the National Championship. This is a highlight not only for the students and mentors, but for the staff and judges who work with the teams as they deliver their Flight Readiness Reviews and conduct flight operations during the worlds largest celebration of flight. EAA consistently rolls out the red carpet for this competition; providing participants with admission and lodging for the International Competition. Teams are also given the opportunity to explore AirVenture and ensures teams receive special access by featuring the teams front and center in front of the Air Show prior to the show beginning where they are recognized for their competition accomplishments.
Truly, the competitors in UAS4STEM sponsored by Skydio learn more than the skills mentioned previously. Thanks to various tasks they do throughout their time competing, youth participants develop professional skills like teamwork, public speaking, time management, and troubleshooting. Aside from these professional skills, they also meet other young AMA members with similar interests and make memories that last a lifetime! The joint efforts between the AMA, EAA, Skydio, FAA AVSED, AMA Foundation, and many others is truly remarkable. Seeing students’ (and mentors’) jaws drop to the floor as they come to recognize all that aviation has to offer at AirVenture never gets old.
The AMA is honored that EAA maintains such a high level of faith and professionalism with the participants in UAS4STEM sponsored by Skydio. Students are given clearance to fly and operate their drones in a highly saturated airspace. While there are parameters like altitude caps and geofences that are put in place, there is an immense amount of trust from EAA to these young fliers since EAA becomes the busiest airport during AirVenture. It is the highest compliment to the Academy and participants that teams are given the clearance to compete during this busy week. The trust that EAA has in these young students fosters a safe, accessible, and engaging environment in which they can strengthen their skills and grow as pilots. And since model aviation can sometimes serve as a catalyst for a future careers and involvement in aviation, EAA allows competitors to test the waters of a lifelong commitment to aviation. This close partnership between EAA and the AMA serves as a wonderful opportunity to pursue aviation.
If you plan to be at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh during the UAS4STEM sponsored by Skydio competition, the Academy of Model Aeronautics encourages you to swing by to watch and support these young competitors. We hope to be closer to the main hub of activities this year, but even if we are flying off the beaten path, the opportunity to witness the skill and professionalism of these teams is worth the journey.
The AMA also hosts evening flying events on site at Pioneer Field, and showcases model aviation in the ultralight area where you’ll find our model aviation simulator trailer. We’re also known to have a presence at the Blue Barn where we coordinate with EAA on their Build And Fly program. You’re invited to see us at all of these flying events which connect AMA members and show that aviation is for everyone. AMA encourages you to participate and strengthen your connection within the community!
You can find more information online about the AMA and UAS4STEM by visiting online. The Academy of Model Aeronautics posts news and updates members on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube as well. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you may have at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Skydio and how to get involved with the Skydio for All program, please visit: https://www.skydio.com/skydio-for-all.
Skydio is the leading U.S. drone manufacturer and world leader in autonomous flight. Skydio leverages breakthrough AI to create the world’s most intelligent flying machines for use by consumers, enterprises, and government customers. Founded in 2014, Skydio is made up of leading experts in AI, robotics, cameras, and electric vehicles from top companies, research labs, and universities from around the world. Skydio designs, assembles, and supports its products in the U.S. from its headquarters in San Mateo, CA, and manufacturing facilities in Hayward, CA, to offer the highest standards of supply chain, manufacturing and data security. Skydio is trusted by leading enterprises across a wide range of industry sectors and is backed by top investors and strategic partners including Andreessen Horowitz, Linse Capital, Next47, IVP, Playground, and NVIDIA.