Yosemite High students reach new heights - by drone

Yosemite High School sophomore Steve Kruz ‘pilots’ one of four drones built by students in the science class of teacher Ryan Collings. According to Collings, this Saturday YHS will host what may well be “the first ever high school drone competition.”
Yosemite High School sophomore Steve Kruz ‘pilots’ one of four drones built by students in the science class of teacher Ryan Collings. According to Collings, this Saturday YHS will host what may well be “the first ever high school drone competition.” Sierra Star

The popularity of small, unmanned aircraft, commonly called drones, has grown by leaps and bounds the past couple years with use by the military, companies, meteorologists and hobbyists around the world.

Concerns about privacy aside, the crafts are now being used by Hollywood movie-makers (The Wolf of Wall Street, Spectre), journalists (coverage of earthquakes in Italy and Ecuador), realtors to showcase homes and property, private companies to deliver products to consumer’s front doors, as well as the military in some countries to launch attacks on enemies.

According to a recent article in, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, told 60 Minutes that about 86% of orders the company ships weigh less than five pounds, and that’s light enough to be delivered to homes by drones. And in New Zealand, Domino’s has begun testing drones for pizza delivery.

Since more advanced drones can be programmed to follow their owners, skiers, hikers, cyclists, and other outdoor enthusiasts can have an eye-in-the-sky on them at all times.

Many military forces in different parts of the world have been in the forefront in using drones to attack enemies. The drone pilots, dubbed “cubicle warriors,” are being recruited at a faster rate than traditional jet pilots. The Israeli Air Force has been accredited with winning many battles just by using electronic decoys, jammers and real time video reconnaissance by drones.

In 1998, the U.S. came up with Endurance Unmanned Crafts, which could stay up in the air for long periods of time. A notable achievement of these crafts came when one named Laima crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 26 hours.

Drones have become popular for a number of reasons including they are generally small and lightweight, and prices for the hobbyist run from $100 to $2,000. Over the next year, more than two million of the unmanned aircraft will be sold to the general public, according to Skylogic Research.

Drones flying at Yosemite High

Recently, drones have been introduced to Yosemite High School students by science instructor Ryan Collings.

“Flying, racing, and building unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the world right now,” Collings said.

Collings has been teaching aquatic robotics at the school for the past couple years with students competing in a big competition in Monterey.

“The students enjoyed the aquatic robotics the past two years so much, they started asking what we were going to do for the third year - and we came up with a class revolving around drones,” Collings said.

The 12 students in his class meet for about five hours a week to learn how to build and fly their five 6 by 8 inch, one-pound drones. All five drones were built from scratch with parts ordered online including battery packs, mini cameras, flight controllers and four brushless motors for the propellers. The parts were about $300 for each drone, with some of the funds coming from the Oakhurst Sierra Noon Rotary Club.

Each student is registered with the FFA (for $5) as a ‘hobby pilot.’ The registration process is much more involved for commercial pilots.

Drone Competition Saturday at YHS

What started out as a class of 12 students learning to build and operate a drone has turned into possibly the first-ever high school drone competition in the world. Titled the FAAR (Functional Applications of Aerial Robots) Competition, the first year event is from 10 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. this Saturday on Raupp Field at YHS.

“We thought what if there was a competition that let you push yourself to the limit while demonstrating the functional applications of these amazing machines,” Collings said. “Let’s face it, between delaying firefighter air support, being shot out of the sky for alleged voyeurism, and a new generation of rubberneckers, drones have gotten a bad rap,” Collings said. “This competition is going to push the envelope of what these drones can do while modeling their responsible use.”

Although the students hoped for more, four teams - three from Liberty High and one from Atwater High - will arrive Saturday to compete in three events.

The first event, The Trail, will have the teams flying their drones to find a lost hiker. Once located, the drone will fly back to base camp for a survival kit, and fly the kit to the lost hiker, returning to camp as fast as possible.

The second scenario will have the drones flying in the school gymnasium over three campsites, attempting to discover clues of which empty camp the lost hiker came from.

“The competition will showcase the functional applications of drones in search and rescue,” Collings said.

The final event of the day will test the teams on their speed and agility when navigating their drone through an extensive obstacle course constructed by the YHS students with PVC pipe and hula hoops.

After all three events are scored, the first place team will receive two tickets for the San Diego Air and Space Museum in San Diego and an Amazon gift card.

The Yosemite team will participate in all the events, but as the host, will not receive any prizes.

“As we started looking for a competition similar to the aquatic robots, we realized that there was nothing of its kind, so we decided to make it part of the class to create and host a competition,” Collings said. “This is not only a first for Yosemite High School, but as far as we know, the first high school drone competition of its kind in the world.”

Steve Kruz said he was happy when drones finally got in the air after spending a lot of time programing them.

“We are approaching the competition and we are finalizing the details and the design,” Kruz said.

Class member Paden Bergdall took the lead in producing a short promotional video about the FAAR competition that was sent to a few schools to invite them to participate.

“My favorite thing about this class has been being able to push myself creatively, both from a science perspective and a artistic view point,” Bergdall said. “The video I put together is mainly just a little blip about why we organized this competition and also the theme of this year. Hopefully, as this class continues, future members of this class will continue to do this video and hold the competition.”

Bergdall predicts the competition will grow in the years ahead.

“I hope that with this being the first year for the event, we are able to put ourselves on the map and get a larger number of schools to come to Oakhurst in the future. I also hope that this will encourage students to pursue a career in some sort of sciences.”

Details: - - then ‘search’ unmanned aircraft systems