St. Thomas drone soars to success

The St. Thomas department of engineering has flown to new heights with an autonomous vehicle that was worthy of praise at the American Society of Mechanical Engineering Regional Competition in Madison, Wis. on March 28 and 29.

Entered in the Lighter Than Air Unmanned Air Vehicle competition, the team of undergraduate and graduate engineers’ drone came in second to the University of North Dakota. Engineering professor James Ellingson said this placement “holds no shame.”

“University of North Dakota in Grand Forks is arguably the best place for drones,” Ellingson said. “They’re training pilots for the military. They have a degree in aerospace, so no shame at all in coming in second. It’s like coming in second to maybe MIT.”

The team’s drone took around two months to construct. Junior Stephen Miller said that the chance to meet other engineers and learn more about the subject were his favorite parts of the experience.

“I got to learn a lot about the fellow engineers here and just the whole learning experience about individual components on the system,” Miller said.

Senior Ben Stassen said that the team’s win has potential to bring more attention to the engineering department.

“Hopefully this project in this competition will put the engineering school on the radar at a more national scale as some of the teams we beat out were schools with pretty competitive programs,” Stassen said.

The engineers will compete in Montreal in November.

“Obviously we want to win,” Ellingson said. “Nothing would make us happier to knock off the MIT of the drone world.”

Alison Bengtson can be reached at