STEM Challenge Takes Flight for Ohio Students, AFRL Experts

22.09.21 06:14 PM By Jennie Hempstead

Ohio students from the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) and experts at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), along with Wright Brothers Institute, have teamed up to create a uniquely Dayton STEM challenge. The ‘Advanced Manufacturing Challenge – Make Heater Fly!’ kicks off next week for a select group of student competitors in the state of Ohio. 

Following the success of the Advanced Manufacturing Olympics in 2019, as well as the recent ‘Summer of Innovation – Digital Drone’, AFRL and Wright Brothers Institute collaborated with FIRST Robotics Competition to create a challenge that asks students to design, fabricate, and demonstrate a shell around a large hexacopter with an 11-pound payload that will look like the Dayton Dragons Mascot “Heater”, allowing him to fly around the ballpark. 

The first stage of competition will require students to “pitch” their design ideas to a panel of prototyping and engineering experts. Student teams will be awarded $500 for their design presentations. Designs that are selected for round two of the competition will be awarded $5000 to purchase materials and tools necessary to fabricate their designs. A final flight demonstration is scheduled to take place in mid-December. A live streamed, virtual event will announce the competition’s winner. 

While the Air Force Research Laboratory is frequently involved with STEM programs, this challenge was an opportunity to leverage past programs and create a uniquely “Dayton” challenge. “Building the next generation of scientists and engineers is critical to our national defense goals,” said Dennis Butcher, Program Manager, American Makes – National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute at the Air Force Research Laboratory. “Engaging high school students with Federal laboratories shows them the exciting and rewarding opportunities to apply their skills, to launch a career, and to protect the nation.”

FIRST is a nationally recognized, youth-servicing nonprofit organization advancing STEM education.  FIRST Robotics Competition combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Andrew Yantes, a senior mentor with FIRST says, “This competition is an ideal way to get teams ready for competition season, earn money for their program, and connect directly with scientists and engineers in the Air Force.”

WBI Innovation Project Manager, Brad Fairfax says, “Designing the competition to leverage previous Air Force events, from the national level to undergraduate summer programs, was an interesting challenge. STEM students have an exceptional opportunity with this competition.” 

To learn more about the competition, visit