Teams of Teens Take Flight at Roboflight

The gym at Henkle Middle School was abuzz with activity on July 19, as students from Insitu's Roboflight Academy demonstrated their knowledge and the projects they had been working on all week as part of the high school STEM-based camp.

Wayne M. Henkle Middle School’s big gym was abuzz with activity on July 19 as teams of teens demonstrated what they had learned at Insitu’s seventh annual Roboflight Academy.

Roboflight Academy is a one-week science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education-based camp put on by Insitu for 14- to 18-year-olds from around the Gorge and beyond. The teens come to learn how to build, program and design their own drones and how Insitu operates its drone systems. The week of learning is capped off by a demonstration of the teens’ creations and a field trip to watch the launch and catch of an Insitu Scan Eagle.

In the seven years that the camp has been running there have been many success stories of teens who participated in the camp and went on to eventually work in aerospace and even for Insitu. The Enterprise caught up with one such success story, Julian Rodgers of Mosier. Rodgers participated in Roboflight for the first time in its second year of operation and returned years later to be a mentor to the teams.

Rodgers studied mechanical engineering at Portland State University and was recently hired as a mechanical engineer for Insitu. To Insitu’s knowledge, Rodgers is the third student to date to participate in the Roboflight Academy to go on and work for them, the first being Petra Knapp from Hood River and Erik Alber from Portland, Ore.

There were 17 first year Roboflight students and 12 returning students that acted as student mentors. The teens were split into four groups based on region, the red group from White Salmon, blue group Hood River, yellow group The Dalles, and the green group was made up of students from all over the Pacific Northwest, from as close as Trout Lake to as far as Auburn.

“It’s a wonderful way to spur competition, build friendships and encourage the kids to create bigger and better projects each year,” said Tammy Kaufman, community relations coordinator for Insitu.

Each team took time inside and outside of the gym to demonstrate projects they have been working on, such as modified versions of Kip Planes (named for one of the academy’s founders and mentor Kip Jackson) and Fly Brix (drones made from Legos). Not only did they demonstrate what they created, but they demonstrated the knowledge they had obtained from the program.

Each day leading up to the demonstration, the students would hear from guest speakers from all over aerospace, from Clark College to the National Air and Space Association (NASA) and learn and participate in projects with them.

“This program really allows kids to get creative and excited to take things apart, design, build and ultimately fly their own creations, “said Jackson.

After the demonstrations came time for awards, all participants received a certificate of completion, however, some students received special awards.

First-year participants, Logan Burdine of The Dalles, Hailey Betts of Hood River Valley High School and Robert Hedrick of Canby High School all received awards voted on by their peers and mentors, similar to superlatives. Burdine received the award for exceptional team player, Betts for outstanding improvement and Hedrick for Distinguished Innovations.

George Harrison of Troutdale High School is a second-year Roboflight participant and was given the mentor extraordinaire award. This award was voted on by the program’s adult mentors.

The last awards were given to the adult mentors as well as the founders of the Roboflight Academy Dr. Dave Lanning, Kip Jackson, and Andrew Pacific.

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