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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Senior soars to new heights with model airplane obsession

As senior Samuel Chung flew his first person view (FPV) home-made quadcopter on a sunny day in his junior year, he had a unique perspective of the beach. As his plane skimmed the waves, Chung saw a gradient of colors in the perspective of the camera mounted on the plane through a screen. The view seemed endless as he flew past sand dunes and across the ocean at altitudes ranging from a few feet to thousands of feet in the sky.

“It felt like I was a bird, freely soaring wherever I wanted, not restricted by water or rocky slopes,” Chung said. “[Being able to fly only] a few feet off the ground was like running across a balance beam.”

Although Chung enjoyed the freedom and his surroundings throughout the day, this flight also turned out to be one of his worst losses. During the last flight of the day, one of the motors stopped spinning, causing the quadcopter to spin out of control.

“I watched the screen, petrified, while the video spun round and round until it turned black after it splashed into the water,” Chung said. “With most other [losses,] no matter how bad the crash was, at least some components were still usable. [In] this crash, everything was lost.”

For Chung, this flight was just one of numerous experiences that have sparked his interest in flying remote controlled airplanes.

Quadcopters, a four-motored aircraft with the motors mounted in an X shape, cost more than other model planes and often have multiple homemade parts. Chung said he only buys the bare electronics and makes parts including antennae for receiving and transmitting video. These electronic parts can otherwise cost more than $200. 

Chung achieves this savings through by first compiling a list of the parts that are required to build the part. Then he orders the parts and assembles them by soldering, gluing, and attaching all the pieces together.

“It’s really no different than building a robot, with the exception that you have to consider weight and aerodynamics above everything else,” Chung said.

Similarly,  the process of building a quadcopter with the same process except the need for calculations before building it. Chung said the process involves some estimating and sometimes even some use of calculus.

Chung started his passion for flying by folding paper airplanes in elementary school. After watching others fly remote controlled jets that “screamed across the sky” as a fourth grader at Rancho San Antonio, Chung was determined to fly one himself.

Chung said the thrill he gets through flying is incomparable to any other forms of transportation.

“[Planes] can travel higher, faster [and] farther than any other kind,” Chung said. “The freedom that comes with flying anywhere, anytime can't be satisfied with any other vehicle.”

Chung started the Aviation Club two years ago in hopes of sharing his love for airplanes by teaching members more about model planes. Although the club has since disbanded due to tight schedules and relatively high costs for parts, the club’s monthly excursions gave others a “taste of flying.”

For former club member senior Alex Yeh, flying was a new experience. Yeh said Chung taught every club member skills necessary to fly the airplanes, like the how to control the aircraft using remote controls, and gave them the opportunity to do so at the outings he organized.

“After my first experience with flying one of [Chung’s] planes, it was immediately apparent why [Chung’s] passion never seemed to wane,” Yeh said. “The mixture of thrill from doing loops and fear of crashing produced an unparalleled enjoyment.”

Although the club no longer exists, Yeh was able to understand what it was that Chung is so attached to. Chung spread his fervor to others, and Yeh experienced Chung’s enthusiasm for flying first hand.

Likewise, Yeh also saw how devoted Chung was to flying through the activities Chung would always partake in.

“[Chung] would create school projects related to airplanes, read novels about aircraft and basically do anything that had something to do with airplanes,” Yeh said. “However, the only way to truly understand his boundless passion for airplanes is to meet him yourself.”

In the past few years, Chung has started building parts for several projects that include taking aerial pictures of the school.

Currently, Chung is working to improve the quality of pictures and videos that his quadcopter takes. He hopes to do this by finding a way that will minimize vibration created by the propellers. Doing so would “yield a better product for school projects or event coverage.”

To Chung, the experience is as rewarding as it is fun, and  also allows him to share what he sees with others.

“I want to film and photograph school events because they offer a different perspective that few people have ever seen before,” Chung said. “Seeing, for example, Club Day from 100 feet is quite spectacular.”

Indeed, Chung hopes to achieve this through his ambition to become an aerospace engineer, a career he has long aspired to pursue.

“I am looking forward to college where I can work on research projects [involving] airplanes [to] solve challenges in society,” Chung said. “If I could [model, test and work] with full scale aircraft and get paid for it, [it would be] like getting paid to have fun.”

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