ST. ALBANS — Thanks to the students in Principles of Engineering 3, Bellows Free Academy (BFA) in St. Albans now has a quad-copter equipped with a camera.
“We wanted to be able to fly over sporting events … and crowds and get aerial footage,” explained senior Ben Boomhover.
The copter, a drone-like flyer, took a semester to design and build, and was the culmination of the students’ work in previous principles of engineering classes, explained teacher Brett Walker.
There were 11 students in the class and each took on a different part of the copter, with some students focusing on design and others on fabrication. With the exception of the electronic parts and the copter blades, the students fabricated all of the parts at BFA.
The work required a great deal of troubleshooting.
Senior Leilani King designed the upper and lower decks of the copter, only to find that the school’s three-dimensional printer couldn’t print them as one piece. They had to be created in pieces, but remain structurally sound as a whole. Her solution was to have them fit together like puzzle pieces, said Walker.
Matt Tannenberger had to come up with a solution to alter a two-battery box to hold a single battery when the weight of the copter was too much.
“The more we worked on it, the more we changed the design,” Matt Wolf said. Some pieces had to be redesigned once they were tested. The cantilevers for example, showed signs of stress fractures.
The copter has seven pounds of thrust and four propellers.
Wiring the copter proved to be the greatest challenge. Seeking help, the students made a YouTube video of their work and shared it online, asking on various forums for help.
“Some people said, ‘You have wires in the totally wrong place,'” said Walker. “We didn’t necessarily know the answers when we started this and I think that’s important.”
Jacob Underwood did a lot of the work on the flight controls. “Researching in depth about that stuff was one of the most important things I’ve taken away from here,” he said. “The tiniest adjustment makes a difference.”
Asked how may attempts it took before the copter could fly, Matt Wolf answered, “Do we have to answer that?”
The answer, it turned out, was “too many to count.”
Senior Eva Montagne said she hadn’t believed a group of teenagers could build something like this. “I didn’t think there was any way I could contribute to this,” said Montagne. “But we came together.”
“Seeing that thing fly was priceless,” she said.
There are some limitations. The rechargeable battery is exhausted after six minutes. Flashing LED lights alert the pilot when power is running low.
The students attempted an originally unforeseen use of the copter – flying it with a message outside of Principal Chris Mosca’s office window, but the turbulence tore the paper.
Walker said he hopes to teach students in video production classes to fly the copter so they can use it to gather footage for their work.
Also in the class were: Gregory Barnett, Juliana Bortz, Loudon Granger, Nicholas Hayden and Joel Parady.