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High school robotics team innovates to help the U.S. Air Force

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Knob Noster High School

FIRST® Robotics Competition Team 6424 “Stealth Panther Robotics,” Knob Noster, Missouri 

"My brother is a pilot for the U.S. Army, and his safety is always a concern of mine. When this opportunity to ensure the safety of another pilot arose, I was glad to have all the tools and knowledge I learned from my FIRST team to help provide peace of mind to [pilots’] families."  - Jenna Moreland, FIRST® Robotics Competition Participant

In late 2018, the U.S. Air Force needed an immediate solution to a reoccurring safety issue affecting their flagship B-2 Bomber: In a cramped cockpit, pilots or hardware could inadvertently engage switches and cut power from the engines, forcing an emergency landing. When tasked with finding a solution to the problem, Brigadier General Jon Nichols, Commander of the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, used his community ties to the Knob Noster school district to enlist the help of FIRST Robotics Competition Team 6424 “Stealth Panther Robotics” to solve the very technical, complex, and real-world problem.

The team hit the ground running. In the first 72 hours, they rapidly designed, 3-D printed, and tested multiple prototypes. The team met with Whiteman Air Force Base leadership and personnel and then integrated the feedback into the final prototype. Their solution, a protective covering for the switch panel, allows Air Force pilots to operate with certainty that the switches will not be engaged inflight – all at a cost of $1.25 per unit. Once their design was approved, the team shifted to rapid production, running their 3-D printer nonstop for three weeks to manufacture protective covers for every B-2 Bomber and training simulator.

The project created an immense sense of pride and purpose in the team members. “I was really happy to know I would have a hand in something that would affect something much larger than myself," said high school student Gabe Gish. The project allowed the team to apply the skills they developed in FIRST® – critical problem solving and manufacturing in a condensed and expedited timeline – to create meaningful change. “FIRST truly came to life for our students through this remarkable opportunity and partnership,” said head coach Chris Adams. “This is exactly what FIRST prepares our students to do … and do well!”

Stealth Panther Robotics proudly remains on standby for their next partnership or mission with Whiteman Air Force Base.

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