Blue Peak High School’s gym was buzzing like a beehive on Saturday, but the sound came from drones not bees.
Tooele County School District hosted its first Remotely Operated Aerial Vehicle Quadcopter Challenge in Blue Peak’s gym at the Community Learning Center on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“Ready, 3, 2, 1,” shouted Gary Stewardson, an associate professor in Utah State University’s School of Applied Science, Technology and Education.
On Stewardson’s cue, the drone operator activated their drone, equipped with a drop cord with a hook at the end, and picked up a standing triangular baton, flew it around a course, and then dropped the baton on a target and returned to pick up a second baton.
A timed relay race, the event tested the manual flying skills of contestants in the first through twelfth grade with separate categories for elementary, junior high and high schools.
A group of around 50 students from the school district participated in an after-school drone program at Blue Peak High school, according to Allan Erichsen, Blue Peak’s physics and engineering teacher who leads the program.
“This is the first year for this program,” Erichsen said. “They’ve been meeting since November and this is their first competition.”
The Remotely Operated Aerial Vehicle, or ROAV, program is designed to use the natural attraction of drones to interest students, starting at a very young age, in careers in science, technology, engineering and math, Stewardson said.
The students can continue their education at USU, which has programs in engineering, drone technology, and aviation, according to Stewardson.
Students from four other school districts were expected to compete in Saturday’s event, but only Tooele County’s students participated.
ROAV students not only learn how to fly drones, but also learn how to control drones through coding, according to Erichsen.
Along with the baton relay race, other competitions at the quad challenge included tests of autonomous control, computational thinking, and a manual flight challenge.
“I’ve learned that there are different blocks of code that you can put together to control the drone,” said Jonah Crane, a second-grade student at Northlake Elementary.
Crane said Saturday’s competition was “good.”
Kyla Ryan, a senior at Tooele High School, said the competition gave her a chance to prove she is just as good as anybody else in a technology field dominated by men.
Ryan recruited her friend, Jessica Weinburger, also a senior at THS, to help the ROAV program because of her graphic arts skills.
“We needed somebody that could help us with posters, flyers and stuff,” Ryan said.
But Weinburger didn’t sit on the sideline for long.
“It looked like a lot of fun,” she said. “So I got involved with flying the drones, too.”
Weinburger and Ryan said their team spent at least 40 hours practicing for Saturday’s competition by flying drones after school in the gym, cafeteria, and hallways of Blue Peak High school.
For safety reasons, the flying course for Saturday’s competition was in a netted area topped by a canopy cover.
Tulinda Larsen, executive director of Deseret UAS, the state funded partnership of Tooele and Box Elder counties to attract drone technology businesses, was on hand for Saturday’s ROAV Challenge.
“By the time some of these students graduate, particularly the elementary students, Deseret UAS will have made such an impact that these students will be able to find jobs right here in Tooele County using their unmanned aerial system skills,” Larsen said.