Lewis University uses UAS to deliver acceptance letters to local high school students



Students often wait anxiously for college admissions acceptance letters, but one university in Illinois has used a drone to give that process a modern twist.

On Monday, Nov. 13, Romeoville, Illinois’ Lewis University used a UAS from its unmanned aircraft systems program to deliver college admissions acceptance letters to eight students at Romeoville High School.

The delivery, which used a Spreading Wings S900 UAS, is believed to be the first of its kind in the United States.

The Spreading Wings S900 UAS used to deliver college admissions acceptance letters to Romeoville High School students. Photo: Lewis University

“Being the first delivery of this kind in the nation demonstrates how Lewis University is a leader in aviation education from the first moments of your Lewis University experience,” says Lewis University’s president, Dr. David Livingston.

According to Jacob Reed, assistant professor of unmanned aircraft systems — and the pilot in charge for the UAS during the delivery —the idea to use a drone for this type of delivery came from Lewis University’s Senior Vice President of Enrollment, Ray Kennelly, who showed the UAS program example videos from other schools.

Until Lewis University’s Nov. 13 flight, though, no flight of this extent had been achieved.

“The idea had been explored for a few years, and it was nice to finally plan and execute the project to the level achieved,” Reed tells AUVSI.

As the case with all drone flights, this one required a special amount of preparation and attention to detail, especially being the first of its kind. Planning for this flight began at the Aviation Department level, as routes, safety and regulations all had to be evaluated.

Next, UAS students who are pursuing the major were approached to get their feedback, opinions and ideas on the flight. And last, but certainly not least, the UAS program went to the Village of Romeoville to get their help with logistics and planning for the flight.

Between taking all proper precautions — including hand-flying the route to maintain visual line of sight of the UAS and to mitigate any risks during the delivery — everything worked in the program’s favor on the day of the flight, and the delivery of the acceptance letters went off without a hitch.

“The flight worked out great and the weather and winds cooperated with us the entire morning,” Reed says.

Students followed the Spreading Wings manual to build and wire all of the hardware and components of the UAS. Then as a class, they reviewed how to use the Flight Controller software to get the transmitter working with the UAS. The delivery was completed by raising the S900’s landing gear to drop a pallet containing the package, which the program 3-D printed in its lab.

While Reed did not see the reaction of the Romeoville high school students when they saw the UAS, he was told that the students were “completely surprised, speechless, then extremely excited and enthusiastic.”

“It is nice to showcase the innovation and progress of these platforms for the students and their parents,” Reed adds.

Romeoville High School students receive their college admissions acceptance letters from Lewis University via drone. Photo: Lewis University

Since the completion of this successful flight, a lot of students “both in and outside of Lewis” have approached the UAS program with inquiries, according to Reed. Local government officials from the surrounding areas have also approached the UAS program, and expressed interest in the program providing their departments with training on how to use this technology for different scenarios.

“It is great to see the growth in our program and we already have more ideas to grow even further in the coming years,” Reed adds.

Some of those ideas are already in the process of being executed, as the Lewis University UAS program is conducting several operations using unmanned systems.

The UAS program is conducting research related to UAS impacting commercial airline traffic in flight, and the results of a recent study surrounding that research should be published soon, Reed says.

The UAS program is also working with the FBI on multiple counterterrorism studies, and the program is moving into ground-based and maritime-based applications along with the aerial uses.  

According to Lewis University, innovation is nothing new for the Catholic university, as it says that since 1932, it has led the field of aviation education by preparing students from across the globe to succeed in the aviation industries.

Students are offered a specialized experience at the university when it comes to aviation, thanks to an on-site airport (Lewis University Airport), experienced and industry-leading faculty, personalized learning, and degree programs.

Lewis University says its aviation program is one of the most respected in the nation, thanks to a well-rounded business, management and liberal arts education.

“Although Lewis is a relatively small school, we have always excelled in our aviation program,” Reed says.

“Not only is the campus located on an airport, we also have professors who have experience with Midway and O’Hare airports as well as Air Traffic Control. Our university president, Dr. David Livingston, and the administration also recognizes the innovation which helps further push the program, faculty, and creativity of our students.”

Lewis University’s UAS program would like to continue using the tools at its disposal to have a positive impact on the community, as it seeks to build and fosters new relationships to push the industry forward.

“We strive to work with our community, local, and federal agencies to provide relevant research in the field of remotely piloted vehicles,” Reed says.