USCYAA Overview

The Upstate SC Youth Aviators Association is bringing youth into aviation and exposing them to the associated technology. This is accomplished through the design, build, and flight of Radio Controlled (RC) airplanes and multirotors, commonly referred to as “drones”, along with connecting youth to the full-scale aviation community. Essentially what is being established is a pipeline for students interested in aviation to go from high school to being prepared to enter the aviation industry.


What is the project goal?
To develop a peer-based youth aviation community focused on RC aircraft design, build, and skill challenges to strengthen problem solving and increase exposure to technology.

Why is this important?
Society will be facing problems in the future that will require the use of innovative technology, and aviation is expected to play a key role. Currently, few opportunities exist for youth challenges related to aviation technology. Problem solving, innovation, self motivation, and personal responsibility are all key to success today. The labor force needs more people who know how to do things and are not afraid to build things with their hands; the ones who do not sit and wait for someone to tell them step-by-step how to do a task but instead figure it out for themselves. This project will help cultivate these people and grow their understanding of aviation and the aeronautical sciences.

So how is your project going to help the community meet this challenge?
This will be accomplished by establishing a youth aircraft building community group to effectively introduce students to associated aviation technology, and help them gain exposure to both full scale and remote control operations (RC aircraft, multirotors, and entry level First-Person View (FPV)/Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs)). Students in successful education programs learn how to solve problems and have the opportunity to use technology solutions to do so, which is exactly what will be done here.

How will it be done?
This will be done through the design and build of low cost RC aircraft, hands-on setup and trial of entry level autonomous FPV systems and the related programming, expanding youth connections with local aviation resources in Upstate South Carolina (Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA)/Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA)/Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA)/Western Carolina RC (WCRC)/Triple Tree Aerodrome), promotion of attendance at local flying events, RC piloting skills training, and the development of participation events (streamer cutting combat, obstacle course challenges, autonomous competitions, etc.). Challenges will be set up for students to tackle, including having to design, build, test, refine, and then compete with their own design. Education will be more hands-on and project-based, integrating traditional liberal arts thinking into problem-solving exercises that emphasize technology.

How This Project Is Different

This project is different in that it will be peer-to-peer and community-based (as opposed to school-based), and will allow all students to be independently involved, but still work together and collaborate in a community. Other programs, such as school robotics, offer similar structure but are unfortunately limited in the number of participants that can be directly involved (primarily due to inherent costs of such programs). This project, because of its extremely low cost, allows all students involved to directly participate.

What We Are Doing

The airplanes flown are be based on free plans available made out of foam core, as well as designs that students come up with themselves. This allows complete airplanes to be very inexpensive, making it cost effective to teach piloting skills. The motor and Electronic Speed Control (ESC) are also part of a removable pod that can be transferred from plane to plane, so many different airplanes can be flown with one motor and ESC, further reducing cost. The platform of foam core is perfect for designing and testing as well. Using free, open-source CAD software, students are able to design their own planes in 3D and then export the plans to be cut out, built, tested, refined, and then used to compete with against other students. Multirotor and low-cost FPV equipment are also used to introduce students to Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) technology, which is expected to play a key role in the future. Especially with the autonomous capabilities of many flight control systems available today, students are able to not only focus on the technology itself but also how to apply that technology to solve real-world problems. Using low-cost technology now available to RC hobby enthusiasts, the equipment we are using is perfect for entry level exposure and can be scaled up based on need, growth, and support. 
Challenges are also set up for students to tackle, including having to design, build, test, refine, and then compete with their own design. Giving students the opportunity to directly participate in technology-based activities where equipment can be shared in a collaborative manner is a great way to accomplish the goal of optimizing the resources available, making it possible to expose many students to the technology at a very low cost.

Project Levels

Primary Level
The initial goal of the project is to get a group of students not already involved with aviation building and flying RC airplanes and multirotors. Challenges will also be set up for students to compete in. This will establish a community for collaboration and peer mentoring, and prove the feasibility of the model.

Secondary Level
In the secondary level of the project, design will be incorporated. Students will design, build, test, refine, and then compete with their own aircraft in challenges. This level also includes very low-cost FPV equipment, allowing students to fly using goggles as if they were in the cockpit of the aircraft. This opens up more opportunities for learning and challenge. Real-world application of technology will also be explored, such as using small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUASs) for conservation purposes. The group will also explore full-scale aviation as well through resources available at local aviation associations.

Stretch Goal Towards Vision
Once a solid community group has been established, proving the feasibility of the project and acting as a model for other groups to follow, efforts will transition to promoting school clubs that can be incorporated into high schools across the nation. By encouraging other schools and organizations to get involved, aviation and the benefits it brings can be expanded to a much larger audience, further benefiting the community.


We envision having high schools across the United States and around the world involved with aviation challenges. In conjunction with school robotics programs, we see students designing, building, testing, refining, and programming small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUASs) used to compete in autonomous challenges similar to robotics, but in three dimensions. This would be more difficult, increasing the benefit of the program. It also exposes students to the technology available, and skills acquired will directly transfer to careers such as UAS operation.