“We got to see how this stuff works in the real world.”
By David Yoel, CEO & Founder American Aerospace Technologies Inc.
flying cell site capabilities with our telecom partner, Verizon.
Any exercise of this kind brings together a number of interested and valued contributors from the public and private sector – American Aerospace and Verizon were there with Cape May County Economic Development and its Office of Emergency Preparedness, all great partners in the development of this capability that is turning into a great tool for first responders.
The concept is simple but daring and technologically challenging: An unmanned, fixed-wing aircraft system, or drone, that can serve as first responders’ eyes and ears in the sky. With a 17-foot wingspan, the aircraft carried a payload that included a flying cell site. The flying cell site is designed to provide wireless voice and data communications capabilities to areas where communications have been interrupted due to storm damage or other catastrophic events. The aircraft can also carry (but not on this flight) imaging and sensor equipment that can rapidly relay pictures and other sensor data to first responders seeking information about post-event conditions on the ground.
Our third joint exercise with our Verizon and Cape May partners was conducted the week of March 5-9. Yet this time, we had a special group — a STEM studies (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) student group from Cape May County Technical High School.
From a technical perspective, we took important steps forward in preparing to deploy this “flying cell site” capability in the face of real disasters and mapped out in greater detail the optimum range and connectivity of the service. And the students were especially excited to be part of the week’s drone mission.
They were there to not only learn, but to participate in the mission as an important ground force. They joined us at the Woodbine Municipal Airport for two days to observe the launch of our unmanned aircraft system, carrying a Verizon flying cell site. And then were deployed in a communications-denied environment that was created for the test devices the students carried to communicate with the cell site, which flew overhead.
During that important second phase, after yet another Nor’easter blew through the area, they were tasked with collecting location data on the ground on their phones to help measure the range of the flying cell site thousands of feet in the air, by making phone calls, sending texts and using the data connections on their phones. All the data was recorded, collected and made part of the test’s records.
Dr. Nancy Hudanich, Superintendent of the Cape May County Technical School District, said the field trip was an excellent opportunity to observe the practical “blurring of disciplines,” which reflects current learning philosophy. She said the two days exposed students to a number of STEM disciplines all at once including aviation, telecommunications, programming, mathematics, electronics, design architecture, hardware and software technologies, critical thinking, problem solving and even welding and soldering.
What was the students’ take on it?
Zachary Robbins of Cape May County Courthouse said: “We got to see how this stuff works in the real world.”
Mark Haluska of Stone Harbor said: “I was pleased to take part in something bigger than myself and be part of a team and project that can help many people and first responders.”
Meghan Courtney of North Wildwood said: “I learned how everything can go wrong before you can get it right.”
Sean Wilson of Tuckahoe said: “Cool to know that ‘breaking’ technology can happen right here where we live.”
Spencer Hughes of Stone Harbor said: “The massive amount of corporate brain power there was humbling.”
Summing it up, Micah Wenker, teacher of the pre-engineering class, said: “It was a great, real world experience.”
For my part, it was a gratifying form of “paying it forward” to others interested in STEM. As a graduate student, I was Payload Manager for the first university student experiment to fly on the Space Shuttle (STS-4) in 1982 — a formative experience that helped shape a rewarding career in aerospace for which I remain indebted to this day.
About American Aerospace Founded in 2002 and headquartered in Conshohocken PA, American Aerospace is a pioneer in the growing field of airborne enterprise systems. The company offers advanced sensors and analytics that operate on manned and unmanned aircraft and small electric drones to deliver near real-time inspection, patrol and mapping services as well as airborne wireless services. To learn more about American Aerospace, visit http://americanaerospace.com or follow the company on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AmericanAeroInc/.